Mar 12, 2012

New Year’s Resolution Woes and the Transtheoretical Model

By: Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS
March is upon us.  And not surprisingly, the health clubs, private gyms, and beaches once full of New Year’s Resolution-ers are rapidly beginning to thin out.  Over the last 15 years I’ve watched it happen over and over in disgust and frustration:

October: Healthy Holiday Intentions.  Avoidance of all the Halloween candy is a strong effort.
November: Thanksgiving week comes and the slippery slope begins, several get-togethers and the excessive eating starts.  A workout or two is missed with the onslaught of extra holiday events and year-end responsibilities.
December: The slippery slope of overeating and less-than-ideal foods continues with way too many office parties and get-togethers with friends.  Time gets short and compressed with all the events so your morning exercise group has to be dropped.
*Rationalization begins soon and you think once January comes the schedule will lighten and the re commitment will begin.
January: If getting back to the exercise plan ever happens, it’s way overboard and feeds right into overuse and over training issues and starts to bring back those old lower back and shoulder issues again.
February: Results aren’t great for all the efforts made.  The body is hurting and the lower back and shoulder issues are getting worse since they were never dealt with due to excessive weight loss efforts and are beginning to outweigh the desire to drop a few more pounds.
March: Game over.  See you next January 2013.

Sports Psychology and Exercise Psychology are fields of research and practice that have probably grown as much as the area of sports science in the last 40 years.  And though I claim no expertise in this area, one of the common topics presented, researched and discussed is the area of exercise adherence.  Point in fact; a colleague of mine at Westmont College is currently doing a research study on this very topic with one of my fitness classes. 

We know we should do it.  We know the benefits.  And even if we don’t understand exactly “what program is best” (by the way…it doesn’t exist), we know we should probably be doing more than we are (or at least doing something instead of nothing).  And after 15+ years in the Fitness and Athletic Performance arenas, this is the primary issue I see:

It’s not that people don’t know what to do…it’s simply that they won’t or can’t do it consistently enough to make lasting change.

I have found that my approach to Strength & Conditioning and Fitness has drastically changed over the past several years with the realization of this dilemma.  So much so that we often do not offer “deals” (or at least the typical deals) to our clientele come January.  I don’t want new people in the front door who will leave in 31 days.  I don’t want to offer specials that encourage people to disengage after just getting started.  And that is what I most often find happens in the typical gym or club setting.  If you’re ready in December or February…start then!  I want and expect lasting changes in our clients and our athletes.  So how and why do we do that?  Quite simply, we use the Transtheoretical Model of change with our clients.  In layman’s terms, we ask our clients what they want, what they believe they can do, and then provide the encouragement and accountability we deem appropriate to make that a lifelong process of change.

The Transtheoretical Model of change has been around for about 40 years, and love it or hate it, it has some value in recognizing the process and helping people toward making lasting positive changes (i.e. habits).  The Model notes 5 stages of mental readiness and phases of making changes:
Pre-Contemplation: Not ready to change (the pros of change are outweighed by the cons)
Contemplation: Thinking about changing and will do so soon (the scales are beginning to tip)
Preparation: Ready for change.  Initial steps are taken.
Action: Game on.  Things are happening.
Maintenance: The game is still on but takes some effort to keep going.
Termination: Not a defined stage, but the reality that the HABIT is formed and there is no temptation of backsliding any longer.

I don’t care if you’re an Olympic or World Class athlete, want to drop 20lbs for “health reasons,” or are coming back from the ACL injury.  It’s a process.  So my question to you is this…are you ready?   (you know which one I’m talking about!)?!  It simply does not matter how good it is. 

It WON’T work for you if you are not ready to work for it.

Let’s be honest, then.  Ask yourself the question.  And, if your response is yes, let me follow up with a few more questions that may help guide your process and give perspective on just how ready you are:

1.  Who are you doing this for? You or a friend or a spouse? If it’s not primarily for you, use caution here and reconsider.
2.  Why are you doing this?  Is there a truly GOOD reason (and not just because you want to drop a couple pounds…just because)?  Does it have lasting value to your life?
3.  Do you have support, or will those close to you cause confusion or mislead or even slow your progress?  This is a big deal…truly.  Support is necessary so that on the days (and they will come) you don’t feel like it, they will encourage and remind you of you answers to the first 2 questions I listed.
4.  Now, are you ready?  How ready are you?  What can you do…forever?  I really like these questions.  If you can’t do this for 6 days out of 7 (or 80-90% of the time), every week for the rest of your life…why are we even talking about it?  The chances of this lasting and becoming a life-changing habit are extremely low. 

Now hear me on this:
If you are ready but you feel like you can only take a baby step, which leads you to believe you aren’t ready…you are believing a lie.  Baby steps ARE allowed (didn’t you see the movie “What About Bob?!”).  You are you.  You are not your friend or co-worker.  Start where you can start.  Gain success.  Keep doing it. 

I’ve watched people increase vertical jumps by 8-10 inches, increase squat strength by 100s of pounds (literally), and lose 100+ pounds of body fat approaching change this way.

Think about it.  Reflect on it. 
Is there value in making this change for your life?
Are you ready?
Where can you start?
Who is going to back you up and encourage (and admonish) you when you need it?

Stop living lives by January 1st.  It’s just a day on the calendar…and it may not be your day.


David MacCulloch said...

This article is spot on! When you have a professional like Chris and his team who first LISTEN to you and learn about your goals, then do a comprehensive evaluation of your baseline capabilities, they design a program that requires that you do what they say and put in your best effort, you will see the results in the proper, healthy time frame. Dave MacCulloch

Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS said...


Thanks for the good words. You have been a great example of setting realistic and timely goals and sticking to the plan for the long haul. As a get results.