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5 Key Steps to Form Healthy Habits

Why is it so difficult for us all to stick to a new habit? Every year, millions of Americans create a New Year’s Resolution, and these resolutions are discarded in a matter of weeks or months. It’s easy for many of us to start a diet or a fitness program, but what is keeping us from forming these healthy habits long-term? Is it a lack of motivation, forgetfulness, or that it’s “just too hard”?

The answer may lie within the Trans-Theoretical Model, a tool that can be used to assess one’s “readiness” to start a new healthy behavior. The Trans-Theoretical Model, or TTM for short, is a cyclic model with 5 stages. Here, I will outline each stage of the TTM, as well as some tips to continue moving forward in pursuit of your health goals.

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STEP 1 – Pre-Contemplation

Pre-Contemplation is the beginning stage of the Trans-Theoretical Model. If you are in the pre-contemplation stage, it means that you have no desire to change your behavior in the immediate future. A person in this stage will probably come off as resistant, due to the fact that they do not see a need to change. An individual at this stage is also not ready to change. The will to change must come from within in order for physical action to be taken. If you find yourself at this stage, it is helpful to think about some of the positive and negative impacts that your current behaviors have on your life. If you did decide to change your lifestyle and adopt new healthy habits, what are the short-term and long-term benefits? What, if any, are the consequences?

STEP 2 – Contemplation

Contemplation is the second step in the Trans-Theoretical Model. In the contemplation stage, you are aware of your actions and behaviors and you are thinking about making a change in the near future. At this point, no action has been taken to change habits, but you are aware that there is a behavior that you’d like to change. At this point, it’s so important to have relationships with people who will help move you forward on your journey. By having a friend or a community supporting you, not only will you have external motivation, but you will feel a stronger urge to hold yourself accountable.

STEP 3 – Preparation

Preparation is one step further from contemplation. The difference between Step 2 and Step 3 is that by Step 3, you are actively planning to make a change. If your goal is to be more physically active, the preparation phase might include buying a new workout outfit, or joining a gym. You have decided to make a change, and you believe that you can change your habits.

STEP 4 – Action

The action phase begins the minute you start actively making a change. This stage only lasts up to 6 months, where an individual will either move on to the next and final stage (maintenance) or move back to one of the previous phases mentioned. In this phase, it’s important to recognize what former stressors were affecting your previous behaviors. If, for example, you are trying to quit drinking, it may be helpful to avoid a certain bar that you used to frequent. It is important to develop coping strategies to manage those former stressors, so they do not influence you to fall back into bad habits.

STEP 5 – Maintenance

Maintenance is the final phase of the Trans-Theoretical Model. In this stage, an individual is still working to integrate these new changes until they become a regular part of life. An individual enters the maintenance stage after about 6 months of adapting a new habit. It is important, at this final stage, that you have identified your former stressors, whether they may be people, places, or objects. If you cycle back to an earlier stage, this is known as “Relapse”.

An important thing to note about the Trans-Theoretical Model is that it is a cyclic model, meaning that some people may fall into a cycle of starting new habits, ditching them, and trying again in a few months if they get discouraged or don’t see results soon enough. It takes time for a new habit to become regular, and most of the time these new habits mean adopting a lifestyle change to accommodate for these new behaviors. By being mindful of your own readiness, you will be much more likely to be successful in creating new healthy habits.

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