A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Why Resolutions Fail, and Why That Can Be a Good Thing

Posted January 24, 2017

If you’re like most people, your resolutions start to lose steam around Valentine’s Day. Beth Frackleton, RN, BSN, M.Ed, wants you to know that this is normal, and she knows exactly what to do about it.

Change Happens In Stages
Beth is a certified health and wellness coach who holds a M.Ed in counseling and is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer. As a Chronic Care Coach with UVA-WorkMed, Beth provides free, one-on-one health and wellness coaching to help University and Health System team members achieve a higher level of physical and mental wellbeing.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, many people adopt an “all or nothing” mindset. They try to make big, drastic changes all at once instead of letting them happen gradually and taking it one day at a time.

“Research shows that self-change is a staged process,” Beth explains. “These stages of change, developed by Dr. James Prochaska in the 1970s, provide an understanding of how and when behaviors can be altered and why clients may struggle, fail or quit.”

As a coach, Beth helps her clients identify the stage of change he or she may currently be in and apply the appropriate interventions for getting them where they want to be.

Dr. Prochaska’s stages of change are referred to as the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. They are:

1.) Precontemplation (not ready for change) – “I can’t” or “I won’t.”

2.) Contemplation (thinking of making a change) – “I might.”

3.) Preparation (preparing to take action) – “I will.”

4.) Action (taking action) – “I am.”

5.) Maintenance (maintaining a good behavior) – “I still am.”

“Clients may move forward or slip back into a previous stage,” Beth explains. “Change is not linear and setbacks can be expected.”

Beth encourages clients to look at setbacks not as failures, but learning experiences. “What did you learn about yourself or what would you do differently next time?”

Prochaska found that when it comes to making a change, many people are in the pre-contemplation stage where they really aren’t thinking about the change. For example, you might say that getting more exercise is a good idea, but you haven’t given much thought to how you’re going to work that into your current routine.

Others might find themselves in the action stage, where they’ve begun to take steps to implement the change. Someone in the action stage might start bringing their sneakers to work so they can walk during their lunch hour, or talk to a trainer at a local gym about how to get started with the right fitness program.

Start Where You Are
Beth explains that new habits should be developed in a positive environment free from expectations of perfection. She also believes that small changes yield big results, and she encourages her clients to focus on their strengths and what is currently going well in their life.

See if these scenarios sound familiar to you:

  • Negative mindset: “Today was such a busy day, and I’m too tired to exercise. I’m never going to lose weight. I should just give up.”
  • Positive mindset: “Today was a busy day, and I didn’t make it to the gym l like I had planned. However, I did have an active day at work where I had to walk quite a bit. I also had a healthy lunch that included vegetables and a glass of water. I actually did better than I thought. Tomorrow, I’ll plan to get an earlier start on my day so I can leave work on time and get to the gym.”

Helping clients identify their strengths and previous successes, Beth says, can build self-confidence, which is essential in making changes.

“Application of specific techniques at each stage of change can help clients reach their health, fitness and wellness goals more effectively, and be able to maintain them,” she says. “It’s important for the client to identify what stage of change he or she is in. Then, once their stage of change is recognized, the coach and client can work together to set goals that are appropriate to their readiness to change.”

Change Doesn’t Have to Be Drastic
Instead of trying to change your schedule altogether, Beth suggests looking for opportunities to upgrade your current routine.

  • If you want to get more exercise, try taking a 10-minute walk three times a day.
  • If there’s a stairwell nearby, walk up and down the stairs several times throughout the day.
  • Set aside time at the beginning of each week to plan healthy meals.
  • Spend a day observing your current behaviors, and think of ways to replace not-so-healthy habits with better ones.

“If you can figure out how to seamlessly incorporate healthier behaviors into your day, you’re more likely to stick with it. Change doesn’t need to be drastic. It’s all about starting where you are.”

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