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Just do It!

The Myth of "Just Do It"

-by Debbie Mullen

If you're having trouble getting motivated to exercise, 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 perhaps feeling a moment of laziness, but the phrase backfires 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 need be because of the pressure to act -- regardless of whether a person is ready. 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 the appropriate strategies at the appropriate times."

Stages and Strategies

Precontemplation: You are unwilling to consider change. "I've never exercised and I have no desire to start now."
Strategies: Consciousness-raising activities are important -- a doctor's warning about health risks 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."

Contemplation: You understand the need to change and you begin to think seriously about it. People can get stuck in this stage for years, waiting for that magic moment or engaging in wishful thinking, hoping to get healthier without changing behavior.
Strategies: Write down the benefits you hope to obtain from physical activity. List your perceived roadblocks and determine how you'll get past each one.

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 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 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!

Action: You have begun to make your planned changes. It's easy to let perceived excuses turn into roadblocks, then to relapses, and then a move back to the Contemplation Stage. Try to find a partner who will join you in being active, 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.

By the time you are in the Action Stage, the phrase "just do it" will have new meaning for you.

--Debbie Mullen, is an ACE certified personal trainer, fitness columnist, and fitness promoter for the Hawaii State Department of Health. As owner of Simple Fitness Solutions, her goal is to make "getting in shape" a less intimidating endeavor.
July 1997

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