Changing habits: “I know what to do, but I’m not doing it”
September 1, 2023 - By Dorothée Buteau-Poulin
Do you often say to yourself: “I should eat more vegetables! Omg, I had to eat out less often. I should cut down on alcohol. I need to move around more. Etc.”? If so, this article will help you understand why these thoughts can linger in your head for a long time without acting on it. What’s more, you’ll discover my biggest secret for changing habits and making them stick for the long term!
The “should” stage
When you’re looking to change your lifestyle habits, there aren’t only two possibilities: “I tell myself I should, but I procrastinate” and “I’m doing it, I’m taking action”. Behavior change is much more complex than this all-or-nothing vision. It can be very discouraging, because you’re either in failure mode, or in action mode with very ambitious and often unrealistic goals. More complete and nuanced, the theory of behavior change proposes six stages, including the famous “should” stage.
6 stages of habit change
I often call this stage “denial”. It’s when you don’t think a change is worth making. For example, if you drink very little water, but don’t feel thirsty, it’s possible that you don’t see any benefit in improving this habit.
The famous “should” stage, in which you can sometimes remain for a very long time. You’re aware of the benefits of change, but you don’t act upon it. I’ll soon let you in on my secret to getting out of it!
You’ve made the decision to make a change, for example by joining a gym, group workouts or healthy cooking classes! Congratulations, now all you have to do is implement the game plan!
Easy to understand, this is where you put your game plan into action! You’re motivated, disciplined, and proud of yourself! On the other hand, you may have doubts about how long it will last…
Studies suggest that it can take from 18 to 254 days to change a habit, depending on various contextual and individual factors. So, go easy on yourself and be patient!
If you’ve been keeping score, you’ll have noticed that I’ve mentioned 6 stages and only named 5. I’ve done what people often do in a process of change, which is to pretend that relapse doesn’t exist. In fact, the 6th stage occurs when you revert to your old habits, and this is called a relapse. Relapse is part of the process, so you must anticipate it, deal with it, and overcome it if you want to succeed in changing your behaviour over the long term! I suggest that you see relapse as an opportunity to learn and better equip yourself. Remember, we only fail when we stop trying!
My biggest secret (not a secret anymore)
Because the “should” stage can last a long time and be hard on your self-esteem, I’m sharing my biggest secret for putting an end to it: identifying your intrinsic, or deep-rooted motivations! If you’ve ever tried to change your lifestyle habits with weight loss, health or improved energy levels as your main motivation, this concept is for you. In fact, these motivations are more extrinsic, or superficial in nature, and less likely to produce long-term, sustainable change.
Intrinsic motivations are related to the pleasure derived, displeasure avoided, or benefits felt in the short term after taking action. So instead of saying “I should eat better”, ask yourself “What satisfaction or very short-term benefits could I get from eating better? For example, it could be the pride of taking care of yourself, avoiding digestive discomforts that interfere with your outings, or improving your mood by having more energy. This will help you stop procrastinating and put your game plan into action more easily, because it’s more concrete and immediate!
The nutritionists on the Nautilus Plus team are skilled at using this approach with you to drive you towards achieving your goals in a sustainable way! So, I invite you to step out of the “should” and take the first step by making an appointment with us. 😊
BONUS: To find out more about this theme, join my FREE live (not recorded) virtual workshop: “Je sais quoi faire, mais je ne le fais pas” (I know what to do, but I’m not doing it) to be held on September 12, 2023, at 6:30pm. Please note that this workshop will be given in French.
- Deci, E. L. et Ryan, R. M. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. Consulted online.
- Lally P. et al., How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur J Soc Psychol. 2010(40): 6: 998-1009.
Changing habits: “I know what to do, but I’m not doing it” is a post from Nautilus Plus. The Nautilus Plus blog aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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