Think you can’t change? Many of us already know that we need to improve our state of well-being in order to extend our lives as we age. Making changes are traditionally difficult, but the good news is that it’s never too late to make changes for the better. The first step is to understand what’s important to you, and then determine the choices and decisions that represent where you want to be. Maybe you want to start a new career, lose weight, stop smoking or start exercising. Whatever the change is, be sure you understand why you want to make the change.
Take a moment to think about a time in your life when you made a successful change or developed a new habit. What was your motivation for the change? What was your attitude at the time? What obstacles or barriers did you have to overcome? Your level of readiness to change will determine how successful you are, and how much time it will take. Once you make the decision to change, you must practice that new behavior one day at a time until it becomes a habit – a lasting change.
What allows some people to change, while others don’t? According to Dr. James Prochaska, developer of the “Stages of Change Model,” people cycle through a very distinct set of stages when making changes in their lives – from not being interested in making any changes, all the way through to maintaining a change after it’s already been made. This is the real challenge for everyone because resistance is always the initial response to making a change. Sometimes people don’t see the positive side of change until it’s shown to them (or until they are forced to realize it on their own). Change is a choice. It’s something we decide to do. The same goes for wellness – it’s a choice, and once you have decided to change, you’ll feel better.
Embracing the concept of change is a big thing because interestingly, many people think they don’t have a choice when it comes to change. Why? For some, it’s fear, guilt, love, pain, time management or even a court order. What motivates one person may not be the same thing that gets another person to act. Everyone reacts differently to changes whether voluntary or mandatory.
To start making a change, let go of certain assumptions or ways of doing things, to make room for new ideas. Work on this one day at a time until you feel comfortable. This often comes into play when I work with sedentary people to increase their activity level (people who work a lot and don’t have a lot of time to exercise). One of my clients’ complaints was, “I don’t want to take an hour or 30 minutes to walk.” My solution was to suggest several two-minute intervals that would equal 30 minutes throughout the day — just stand up, walk around and visit people throughout the office, for example. The result was successful. He exercised and actually became more sociable as a result! Once he became comfortable with walking, I got him up to 10-minute intervals three times a day. Now he’s walking 30 minutes at one time and enjoying it. This all took place over the course of a few months.
To make a lasting change, you start wherever you are and stretch a tiny bit more each time. If you fall off the wagon, or experience resistance, identify the cause or circumstances— who you were with, where you were, or your emotional state. The key is to get up and get back on the path again. You may go back and forward a few times because making a lasting change is hard. Your level of readiness to change will determine how successful you are, and how much time it will take. But you need to be ready, able and willing to make change happen.