Breaking Bad….Habits!

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One of the great challenges in attempting to improve how we live is to break the bad habits. Sometimes it seems that the bad habits are the only ones that really persist. Bad habits seem easier to maintain. Bad habits are often the ones that we secretly enjoy, no matter how harmful they may be tobubble-19329_1920 our health.
It isn’t all bad news though. We know that some people are able and willing to make the necessary changes in their lifestyle choices to promote better health but many people are stuck in the old, bad habits that get in the way of enjoying life, happiness and well being. The Director of the Cancer Prevention Research Centre, James Prochaska, has designed a six-part model to help us understand the different stages that are involved in breaking a whole range of bad habits such as smoking, over-eating and alcohol abuse.
The model starts with Precontemplation, the first stage in which an individual is absolutely not interested in making any changes. It’s important to recognise that many people with health issues people fit into this category. The response is not to force any new behaviours on the individual but to give support, counselling and good information on how and why the changes can make a difference. Patience, logic, kindness and persistence are the keys to helping here.
The second stage identifies the point when an individual is starting to think about the required changes but hasn’t made the commitment to take action. This point is referred to as the Contemplation Stage. This is where positive encouragement and more information can be very helpful, particularly if there is a well-informed support group on hand to lend practical advice and enthusiasm to the project.
Most people would imagine that this is where we rush into action and take the first real steps in the new and exciting programme for change but there is an important Preparation Stage first. This is where the motivated individual receives the outline of the action plan for whatever changes have been agreed and this stage helps to ease the person into new ways of thinking and behaving. It usually involves some preparatory exercises too so that the scale of the plan doesn’t overwhelm the individual.

The Action Stage is based on planning, support, rewards and continuity. People will need to feel rewarded for their successes and receive constant reminders of their commitments and goals. Controlling their environment is essential for boosting the chances of success. Removing obvious sources of temptation plus the encouragement of key individuals can add momentum to the plan and keep the individual comfortably on track towards their new health and well being goals.

Once the plan is under way, you can probably guess the next priority. It’s the fifth stage and it’s called Maintenance because every good plan, worthwhile idea and meaningful project needs continuity to succeed. It seems that a clear focus on the stated goals can keep an individual focused on the end result. Building on the early successes, we create momentum and the motivation to keep going, to go further and reach our stated goals.

When we’ve achieved our goal, we reach the final phase of the model which is simply called Termination. The success of the project implies that the individual has developed new behaviours, good habits, which have now become part of the normal range of daily responses. The project has evolved into a good habit and no longer requires special attention.

Research suggests that the real challenge with weight loss is the need to recognise how our behaviour underlies our health and well being. If this interesting behavioural model helps us to encourage more people to take responsibility for their health, the world may become a healthier, happier place with less dependency on pharmaceuticals for our quality of life.

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