Making changes

Are you dreaming of buying a new car or boat, losing weight or stopping smoking? To actually do new things we have to alter our behaviour and sometimes also our point of view.

We might have to work or save harder, eat differently, join a smoking cessation program to achieve these goals. Understanding how to move on with your decision-making can make the process of change a lot easier for you.

Changing behavior is a process, not an event. According to early researchers of Behaviour Change Theory (Prochaska and DiClemente) we can pass through at least five stages of change as we alter the way we do things. How quickly we move forward, pause or exit the process obviously varies from one individual to another, according to the degree of change required and how badly we want to achieve that goal.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation

You may be unaware of the problem and so haven’t thought about change. However if you received personal information on the risks and health benefits of change at this stage it may help you move forward.

e.g. Your current car starts losing oil and you fail the test for a  new warrant; the price of cigarettes goes up or your doctor calls to say that you are pre-diabetic and need to lose weight.

Stage 2: Contemplation

You may be thinking about change in the future and have some awareness of your problem but swing between wanting to change and not. It may help if you sat down and wrote down the pros and cons of change and gathered more information to help the decision-making process.

e.g. You read a few test reports on new cars that you have heard are within your price bracket and weigh this up against car repair; you talk to other friends who have successfully quit smoking or lost weight to find out how they did it.

Stage 3: Discussion/Determination

You may make plans to change and this could be helped if you also set a realistic goal and timeframe as to when you hope to achieve it.

e.g. You realise the Ferrari might be a few years off but look around car yards at other red cars, take a few test drives and talk to the bank manager/partner or parent about the car payments. You call Quit line to find out how to stop smoking or make an appointment with a Dietitian and begin a nutritional assessment of your current diet to find out what your problem areas are.

Stage 4: Action

You implement the change and it may help you if you also seek support from others.

e.g. You buy the new car and agree to have regular maintenance checks; you quit smoking and chat with a support person each day; you meet with your dietitian initially each week to learn how to eat more and weigh less.

Stage 5: Maintenance

You keep up the changed behaviour but the challenge is to prevent relapse. Here it may help if you concentrate on the positive things your challenges have brought.

e.g. You love your new car but need a reminder to check on the water and oil levels regularly to prevent costly repair bills, You go to a party and someone offers you a cigarette but remembering how good you feel when running now, you hastily decline; Someone at work offers you a block of chocolate but remembering how good it feels now to fit those new jeans you have one square and pass the rest around.

What stops us from change?

Many people say that they wished they had made changes to their lives years ago. So why didn’t they?

Comfort zone

While it is easy to contemplate change actually doing it can take time, money and effort. The longer that you leave it the more settled you become with the way that things are. You don’t want to “rock the boat”. However it’s a bit like having a closet that needs tidying. The longer you leave it the more it bugs you until eventually you take the time to tidy it. You suddenly find things that were lost and it feels so good to cross that job off your list that you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!

Fear of failure

Often people avoid change because they are afraid of failure.  Afraid of what other people will think if they fail. Which would be worse lying on your death-bed wishing you had tried new things or knowing that you had given it your best shot no matter what the outcome? Being afraid of trying something new is perfectly normal. Uncertainty is part of the excitement of life. However every time you “feel the fear” of change but “do it anyway” the easier change becomes. (Obviously we are not encouraging you to start base jumping or other pursuits endangering your health). Breaking down the problem into bite sized steps, getting support from others who have succeeded and setting timelines for achievement can make the process of any change a lot less daunting.

Lack of knowledge

Often people don’t know that they have a problem until something breaks down. That’s why it is good (particularly with your health) to have regular medical check-ups to keep fit and active. To keep aware of changes around you and receptive to learning new things.

How can I change others?

The simple answer is “you can’t”. However what you can do is to create the right environment for others to change. If your husband, partner or child is overweight, buy healthy food, plan easy meals, avoid unnecessary takeaways and eat well yourself. Lead by example.

Just like a car our bodies need regular maintenance.

At Lea Stening Health we recognise that making changes does take time and that it is not possible to lose weight or to get fitter in one consultation. However making the decision to try may just take that one consultation to kick-start the process. Therefore we have altered our programs to suit this “stages of change” model. Visit Weight Control to find out more.


  • Prochaska, James O.; DiClemente, Carlo C. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 51(3), Jun 1983, 390-395. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.51.3.390

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

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