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How to Change Your Life: Behavior Change and Smart Goals, a Step By Step Process

Is there anything in your life that you would like to change? If you are like most people, you probably have many things you would like to alter about your life, but you do not know where to start or even how to create lasting change. The Pyramids in Egypt, the Colosseum in Rome, and other great structures were not built in a day, they were created stone by stone and brick by brick. This is the same way we can go about creating lasting change in our lives. It won't happen over night, but it will be the result of many small steps, taken cumulatively. First, you need to identify what your goal is, or what you hope to achieve. Once this has been identified, you can start working towards making that goal a reality. In this blog, we will go over a theory of behavior change and a step by step process of creating change using SMART Goals, as well as barriers to success and how to create change that will last. Whether that be losing some weight, sticking to a nutrition program or simply finding more time to read or be in nature, the process is the same. 

Stages of Behavior Change

Lets face it, behavior change is not always easy. If it were, you probably would not be here reading this blog. You have probably tried to reach a goal in the past and either did not know how or where to start, or maybe you did start, but got discouraged or struggled to keep on track. There are many models of change out there, but one model of change, The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, is an evidence based and researched model that takes a biopsychosocial stance and can be applied to many different types of goals. This model is made up of six stages, they are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination/relapse. 

1. Precontemplation (Not Ready Yet): People in the Precontemplation stage do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future. In fact, they might be in denial that they need to create change, or they may not believe they can change due to previous failures.

2. Contemplation (Getting Ready): People in the Contemplation stage are aware that they need to create change, but often feel like they do not know how to go about it or that the costs are too great. This stage is often the biggest hurdle to creating change.

3. Preparation (Ready): People in the Preparation stage are playing with the idea of changing their lives and have probably started making small changes. For example, if they want to lose weight, maybe they have started tracking their foods or booked a consult with a personal trainer. 

4. Action: In the Action stage, people are actively taking steps to make change in their lives. If we continue with weight loss, this would be when they have started working with a personal trainer and have changed their eating habits. 

5. Maintenance: People in the Maintenance stage have completed the Action stage and have changed their lives in some way. This is a big achievement and helps build confidence.

6. Relapse/Termination: Sometimes people slip back into old ways of being once their goals have been reached. It is important for people who have reached the maintenance stage to keep up their work. However, relapse is a common occurrence and sometimes will leave people feeling like they have failed. For example, maybe they lost the weight they wanted to, but after the holidays, they gained some of that weight back. It is important to remember that you reached your goal before, so you can reach it again. Just make sure to get back on track as soon as possible. Other goals will reach the Termination stage. This would be for goals like graduating from university. Once you have graduated. you have reached the termination stage. Many goals will end in the maintenance stage.

Now you know the stages of behavior change. Once you have identified your goal(s), you can start working your way towards the action stage. Once in the action stage, what do you do? You map out your goal(s) using SMART Goals.

Smart Goals

 What are SMART Goals? SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Defined.

  • Specific: It is important to be specific (clear and well defined) about what you hope to achieve when designing SMART Goals. When being specific, ask yourself- What do you want to achieve and why is this goal important to you? 
  • Measurable: How will you quantify your success? What metrics will you use?
  • Achievable: When trying to reach a goal and create change, it is important to make sure your goal is actually realistic and attainable. 
  • Relevant: Is this goal actually important to you and your life?
  • Time Defined: Make sure you have a target date to reach your goal by. It is ok if you have to revaluate this time scale once working on your goal, but it should be set at the beginning. It needs to be not too far out that it is too easy and you might lose track, or too soon that it is not realistic. 
  • Some models have now added an E and an R to make it SMARTER goals. The additional letters stand for Evaluate and Review. These are great additional steps. Sometimes when trying to reach our goals we are ahead of schedule or behind schedule or we may even find that this goal is no longer something we want to work for. It is important to evaluate and review your progress throughout this entire process.

Example SMART Goal

Lets say you want to lose some weight. That would be a goal, but it is not specific, measurable or time defined. You want to lose 20 pounds. Ok, now this is specific, but it is not time defined. You want to lose 20 pounds in a week? A month? A year? Without being time defined, we cannot know if it is realistic and attainable. You want to lose 20 pounds in the next week. Now we have a specific, measurable and time defined goal. However, losing 20 pounds in a week is not realistic. You want to lose 20 pounds in the next two months. Now we have a goal that is specific (lose 20 pounds), measurable (Can be charted using a scale), realistic (20 pounds in two months will take lots of effort, but is not unrealistic or unhealthy), relevant (as long as you have 20 pounds to lose and this is a healthy goal for your body, then it is relevant) and time defined (In the next two months).   

Barriers to Success, Support and Other Considerations

Some other things to consider while mapping out your goals and path to change are barriers to success and support. Barriers to success are things that may impede or limit your ability to reach your goal. They are important to identify at the start, so you can help mitigate them in advance. For example, maybe you do not have a lot of time to exercise, so you make sure to go to bed earlier and prioritize your goal by exercising in the morning before work. Support is also very important on the path to behavior change. Perhaps you want to lose those 20 pounds mentioned earlier, but your family likes to eat junk food. You could ask them if they can support you in your goal, by eating junk food outside of the house and not bringing it home. You can also get an accountability buddy. This could be someone who joins you for your workouts or just a friend who is also trying to lose weight and you both check in regularly, via text, to let the each other know when you got your workout in. Studies show that many behavior change programs are far more successful when done in a group or with friends. 

Conclusion

We here at Lotus Tribe know that it can be difficult to create change. However, we also know that change is possible and can transform your entire life. Whether you want to be lose weight, quit smoking, get a new job or simply be more social, we have given you a step by step process to help you become whatever you want to be. First, identify your goal. Then craft your SMART Goal(s), making sure it is specific, measurable, relevant and time defined. Also, make sure to seek proper guidance if you need help in achieving your goal, identify potential barriers so that you can mitigate them and find an accountability buddy!