New Year's Resolutions & Lasting Change - Kimberly Thompson

p class=”font_8″> 


Ahh, a new year … a fresh and shiny blank page in the book of life.  What would you like to accomplish? What would you like to write on the blank page of 2017?

Unfortunately change is hard. In their book Changing for Good, Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente present six stages that everyone goes through when confronted with the need for change.

            * First, there is precontemplation. If you are in this stage, you aren’t ready for change because it hasn’t yet occurred to you that you need change or that change is even desirable. If you made a New Year’s resolution only because “it’s the thing you do on New Year’s Day,” then the likelihood of success is virtually nonexistent. Weight loss goals are common, so let’s use this as an example. If your doctor has told you that you need to lose weight but you don’t feel in your gut that there’s a real problem, you are in the precontemplation stage and unlikely to follow through. Transitioning out of precontemplation and into the next stage is both a cognitive and an emotional process that comes from within — it’s not something someone can do for you.

            * Then, there’s contemplation. If you are in this stage, you see that you need to change in some way. However, you are not yet ready to take action. If you are not ready, the action probably won’t happen. Others might shame or guilt you into a short-term and half-hearted attempt, but if you are not ready for action, real change is not going to happen. During the contemplation stage, you may feel the uncomfortable stirrings of dissatisfaction but have not yet concluded that you need or want to change. To use the weight loss example, you may find yourself physically uncomfortable with the extra weight – or you may acknowledge intellectually that your fatigue and poor stamina stems from it – but you’re not yet convinced that the benefits of weight loss outweigh the pain of changing your habits.

            * Next comes the preparation stage. You may still be feeling ambivalent about actually changing – but you are beginning to make plans. Don’t rush yourself through the preparation stage. Instead, make detailed plans that you can reasonably accomplish. Take into account the time, energy, and money that will be required to accomplish your goal. For example, for weight loss you will have to set aside time to exercise, to plan your meals, and to shop for healthier foods. You will have to relinquish other activities so that you can devote time and energy to weight loss. You will have to decide how much money you can devote to it – can you join a gym? Sign up for a weight loss program? Buy prepackaged meals? Get very detailed in your plans. Think about what you will do when life throws you a curve ball.

            * Then comes the action stage. You are ready for action when you have resolved your ambivalence about change and have made your preparations. The Changing for Good authors point out that change actually happens at each stage – if you have been denying there’s a problem for years, then getting to the point of even considering that there’s a problem represents change. However, the action stage is where actual activity toward accomplishing your goal gets done. This is the stage where you get in the gym, start eating vegetables – whatever will get you to your goal. If you have done your preparation well, the action stage won’t seem nearly as intimidating and is much more likely to result in success.

            * Then, there’s maintenance. Oh boy, every person who has struggled with weight or health issues knows how hard maintenance can be. It’s one of the reasons that the contemplation and preparation stages are so important: you have to be really sure that you deeply desire lasting change. Otherwise, the maintenance phase will trip you up and send you back to your old habits. If you have carefully worked through the first few phases of change, though, maintenance is the stage where you learn to stick with it  and to love those changes for the long haul.

            * Lastly, there’s termination. Maybe you can get to this stage and maybe not. It depends on the changes you would like to make. Termination means that you no longer have to be diligent about preventing relapse. Using the weight loss example, termination would mean that you are no longer tempted to overeat or to skip workouts. It means that living a healthy lifestyle comes naturally and effortlessly. Next year, you might find yourself in the termination stage – but even if maintaining your goals never becomes completely effortless, maintenance will become easier and more automatic over time.

I hope that you can use your imagination to apply the principles of change to your own New Year’s resolutions. Make sure your goals for 2017 are specific and actionable. Focus on the behaviors you want to change (e.g., increase your workouts or decrease your calories) rather than concentrating solely on your desired outcomes (e.g., weight loss). Don’t shortchange the preparation stage. And accept that maintenance is an integral part of lasting change.


     I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lubbock, Texas. I work with mothers and their children to help them heal, grow, and live their most vibrant lives. My particular expertise is pregnant and postpartum women, and moms of “littles.” My book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, is available on Amazon and from Praeclarus Press. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me face-to-face; if you live anywhere else in the state of Texas, you can work with me via online therapy. Send me a message if you need more information, or call my office at (806) 224-0200 if you’re ready to book an appointment.