Dr. James M. Olson, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario, London, has identified several psychological barriers that commonly prevent people from taking action, even when inaction poses a threat to their health. These barriers occur during 3 stages of behavior modification: admission of the problem, initial attempts to change, and long-term change as outlined below:
- Barriers to Admission of the problem
The first step in lasting change is admitting a problem exists. People often fail to change behavior that poses a risk to their health because they deny a risk exists, trivialize their personal risk, feel invulnerable, make a faulty conceptualization, (i.e., they attribute early warning signs to a benign cause), or experience debilitating emotions when contemplating preventative measures.
- Barriers to Initial Attempts to Change
At this stage, people acknowledge the need to change but struggle to accomplish their goals. This failure is a result of lack of knowledge, low self-efficacy (the belief in one’s own ability to succeed at change), and dysfunctional attitudes.
- Barriers to long-term change
Just because a person has experienced success in changing a behavior, that doesn’t mean the change is permanent. Barriers to long-term change include cognitive and motivational drift (diminishing enthusiasm for the need to change), lack of perceived improvement, lack of social support, and lapses.
To read more about these barriers to change, including strategies for overcoming these barriers, read Dr. Olson’s entire article linked below:
Psychological Barriers to Behavior Change
A presentation on overcoming barriers to change by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NHS) is linked below:
Overcoming Barriers to Change
Fostering Wellness in Your Life
You are once again feeling motivated to eat better, exercise more, drink less caffeine or make any number of the positive lifestyle changes you have been telling yourself you want to make. You have tried before— probably declaring another attempt as a New Year’s resolution—but without experiencing much success. Making a lifestyle change is challenging, especially when you want to transform many things at once. This time, think of those changes not as a resolution but as an evolution.
Lifestyle changes are a process that take time and require support. Once you are ready to make a change, the difficult part is committing and following through. So do your research and make a plan that will prepare you for success. Careful planning means setting small goals and taking things one step at a time.
Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) that will assist you in making lasting, positive lifestyle and behavior changes:
- Make a plan that will stick.
Your plan is a map that will guide you on this journey of change. You can even think of it as an adventure. When making your plan, be specific. Want to exercise more? Detail the time of day when you can take walks and how long you will walk. Write everything down, and ask yourself if you are confident that these activities and goals are realistic for you. If not, start with smaller steps. Post your plan where you will most often see it as a reminder.
- Start small.
After you've identified realistic short-term and long-term goals, break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifically defined and can be measured. Is your long-term goal to lose 20 pounds within the next five months? A good weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. If you would like to eat healthier, consider as a goal for the week replacing dessert with a healthier option, like fruit or yogurt. At the end of the week, you will feel successful knowing you met your goal.
- Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Many people run into problems when they try to change too much too fast. To improve your success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviors become a habit, try to add another goal that works toward the overall change you are striving for.
- Involve a buddy.
Whether it be a friend, co-worker or family member, someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable. Perhaps it can be someone who will go to the gym with you or someone who is also trying to stop smoking. Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. Having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.
- Ask for support.
Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a psychologist. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body, as well as the factors that promote behavior change. Asking for help does not mean a lifetime of therapy; even just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.
Start with “Why?”
Making changes in habitual behavior requires a deep and abiding belief that change is needed. Your desire to change may be motivated by personal goals, or it may be the result of the impact your improved wellness will have on those you love. Nietzsche said, “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”
Once you have a compelling reason to change, develop a plan and commit to that plan. If you experience a moment of weakness, do not waste time on self- condemnation. Revisit your compelling reason and reaffirm your commitment to change. The health, peace, and sense of wellbeing inherent in the highest level of your own personal wellness is more than worth the effort required to change.
For more information about making permanent lifestyle changes, go to the APA website linked below: