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The Myth of "Just Do It"

by Deborah L. Mullen, CSCS

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 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 that there's more anxiety around change than there needs to be. That's because there's been so much pressure to act-- regardless 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 patients health risks that are due in part to lack of physical activity; a life event such as the birth of a grandchild or one's 50th birthday; reading the Surgeon General's report, Physical 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, detailed 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 hour 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 the 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. (See related articles Beating the Dropout Odds and Staying on Track.) It's a good idea to do your physical 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.

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