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If you are frequenting this blog, I’m guessing that you have made a choice to improve your health by changing your habits in some way. Way to go! As we know, change of any kind can be difficult, especially if you are attempting to make changes all on your own. But even when you enlist the help of a health professional or coach, going through the change process can be a bit of a roller coaster emotionally, where you are feeling up one day, and down/discouraged the next.  When you recognize these ups and downs as being a NORMAL part of the process (No, there is nothing wrong with you!), then you’ll know to expect them, can prepare ahead of time for them, and can navigate through the change process more easily and successfully.  And being successful is the outcome we each want. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?

In the 1970’s, Don Kelley and Daryl Conner developed their Emotional Cycle of Change model, which outlines 5 emotional stages that we go through when making any kind of change, and this applies to healthy habit changes as well.  The stages are:
1)  Uninformed optimism
2)  Informed pessimism
3)  Hopeful realism
4)  Informed optimism
5)  Completion
Let’s take a look at each stage and what it might look like as you make healthy habit changes, as well as some tips for successfully moving through each stage.

In stage 1, Uninformed Optimism, you decide to make a change, which could be joining a fitness class, going on a new eating plan, learning to make healthy meals at home, or incorporating meditation into your daily routine to reduce stress. For the sake of ease, let’s use joining a fitness class as an example. In the first stage, you are all excited to get started with the class, have high hopes for the fit body that you will develop, and you feel overall optimistic. Tip:This is a good time to write down the benefits that you hope to achieve from the class; it will be helpful to come back to this list in later stages.

As you get going with the class, you’ll go into stage 2: Informed Pessimism. You start to realize that this class is maybe a bit harder than you anticipated, and some negative feelings start to set in.  Your muscles get sore a few days into it as you push them past their sedentary comfort zone. You may be frustrated by some challenges, feeling like you are not fit enough to do some of the moves or poses. You may feel anxious or inadequate, and consider quitting the class. This is where many people “fall off the bandwagon.”  They start procrastinating about going to the class and come up with excuses to avoid the class, and next thing they know, they’ve got a paid gym membership that isn’t getting used!  Tip:This is a good time to revisit your goals and make sure that they are realistic and achievable, or adjust them to match your more accurate understanding of the class requirements. It is also important to have a supportive friend or coach to support and encourage you, and provide a reality check regarding your own self-sabotaging thoughts. These steps can help you navigate this stage successfully and in less time!

Once you make it through stage 2, you hit the third stage: Hopeful Realism.  You’ve started to make some progress, your muscles are not quite so sore at the end of a workout, and your negative feelings should be starting to subside. You become more familiar with the class, and you are getting better at working through the challenges.  Tip: Put your classes on your schedule and anticipate potential conflicts so that you can work your plan and stay on track.

Stage 4 is Informed Optimism.  In this phase, you begin to notice some of the benefits you were hoping for and are more confident with each passing class. You’ve started to develop a habit of attending this class, and you are feeling really good about your decision to take the class. Tip:You may now be able to support and encourage others who are just starting out as newbies in this class. Making new friends and developing your own support network will help solidify your commitment to this new habit!

And finally, you reach stage 5 – Completion!  You are now regularly attending your fitness class, and even maybe changing it up with some new classes. You hardly have to even think about scheduling the class – you just automatically go to it as part of your daily routine.  It’s a firmly established habit that promotes your health!  Your energy is high, you’re losing weight, and you feel awesome! Tip:Celebrate your success! Think about what other habits you’d like to build into your lifestyle. Success really does breed success, so now that you know you can conquer change, it is a good time to take on that next health goal!

As the old saying goes, ‘Forewarned is Forearmed.”  Advanced warning provides an advantage, and hopefully you now have that advantage of understanding the pattern of ups and downs and what to do so they don’t sideline you. Enlist the help of a friend or coach early in the process, so when you are going through the emotionally difficult stages, especially in the beginning, you will have the support to get through it and not be kicking yourself for being ‘weak-willed’ or any of the other self-sabotaging lies that we tell ourselves.

To your health!

About Tamara

Tamara Golden is a wife, mother of 3, board certified Holistic Nurse, whole health educator, board certified health and wellness coach, and ordained minister. Her passion is helping God's people overcome lifestyle-induced health challenges and align their habits with His divine design for health and healing so they can fulfill their calling, unhindered by poor health and chronic disease.