The Myth of “Just Do It”

If you’re having trouble getting motivated to exercise more, don’t expect to suddenly change your behavior by telling yourself to “just do it”. This is a great phrase for those who are already “doing it” and are feeling a moment of laziness. The phrase backfires, however, with people who aren’t in the “action” stage of behavior change.

“It’s because change doesn’t begin with action”, remarks James Prochaska, psychologist and head of the Health Promotion Partnership at the University of Rhode Island. He says there’s more anxiety around change than there needs to be. That’s because there’s been so much pressure to act — regardlesss if someone is ready for it. In his book Changing for Good, Dr. Prochaska outlines the stages of behavior change. “By consciously dealing with change in stages…it’s easier to apply appropriate strategies at the appropriate times”.

1. Precontemplation

Precontemplators aren’t willing to consider making a change (“I’ve never exercised, and I have no desire to start now”). Strategies: Consciousness-raising activities are important–a doctor’s warning about a patient’s health risks that are due in part to lack of physcial activity; a life event such as the birth of a grandchild or one’s 50th birthday; reading the Surgeon General’s report, Physcial Activity and Health.

2. Contemplation

Contemplators know they need to change and begin to think seriously about it. The problem is that people can get stuck in this stage for years. Some people wait for the magic moment (you need to make the moment) or engage in wishful thinking (hoping to get healthier without changing behavior. Strategies: Write down the benefits you hope to obtain from physical activity. Next list the perceived roadblocks and how to get past each one. More consciousness-raising is in order, not to convince you that you need to change, but to propel you into the next stage.

3. Preparation

“Most people in this stage are planning to take action within a month” says Dr. Prochaska. “They think more about the pros of a new behavior than about the cons of the old one.” Strategies: Develop a firm, details plan for action. Set a date to begin and make this public. When making your plan, it’s important to choose an activity that you’ll like and that will fit in your schedule. Time saving tips: record your TV programs. If you watch 2 hours per day, you’ll save 1/2 in commercials–use this for your physical activity. How about getting more organized with your meal planning and go shopping only once a week–you know what to do with that extra time!

4. Action

People in this stage have begun to make changes for which they have planned. It’s easy to let perceived excuses turn into roadblocks, then to relapses and then a move back to the Contemplation Stage. It’s a good idea to do your physcial activity with others, at least until the behavior becomes a habit. Round up co-workers, friends, or relatives and form a walking group (even if it’s only you and a partner). Make a ground rule that the only excuses for not attending are being sick or injured. (When traveling, take your walking shoes and walk wherever you are). By the time you are in the Action Stage, the phrase “just do it” will have more meaning for you.

Deborah L. Mullen, C.S.C.S is a Strength and Condition Specialist at Simple Fitness Solutions in Luis Obispo, CA.

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