2 Steps to Maintaining Your Fitness Goals Long Term

Behavior change is woven into the human mind and body in complex ways- many different factors determine if a person will be able to maintain their changes long term: from environment, to temptation, to support, positive rewards, and the ability to plan ahead. Scientists and Psychologists have studied what makes people stick with a behavior long term- and there are several factors. People aren’t born with the ability to make a behavior change as simply as they can make a decision. In this post you will learn what behavioral scientists have found to be the most effective tools for maintaining a goal so that you can feel confident that your achievements aren’t just temporary.
 
THE TRANSTHEORETICAL MODEL:
The Transtheoretical model of Behavior Change was a scale designed by experts from different fields who came together with the belief that behavior change is holistic and needs to address the physical, psychological, and environmental components that factor into making lasting behavior changes. The model shows the stages of progression of making a behavior change, and in this case, achieving your fitness goals:
 
Precontemplation
Contemplation
Preparation
Action
Maintenance
Relapse
 
For the sake of this specific topic of maintaining goals we will focus just on the last 3 stages: Action, maintenance, and relapse, because those are the stages that will be most applicable to maintaining your goals long term.
 
Action
In this stage, an individual is actively making behavior changes on the journey toward their goal. This stage can last as long as a person is working toward their goal, which, in some cases, can be months or years. People in this stage have commitments and have to put effort into sticking with their goals and new lifestyle. Their confidence begins to grow as they see successes. In order to move onto the next level, which is the ultimate goal, they must learn techniques to maintain their commitments of healthy activities in place of unhealthy habits. They must also reward themselves for their progress in order to stay motivated. In order to avoid temptation, they need to avoid situations and people who may tempt them in unhealthy ways.

To summarize, if you want to achieve your goal, you’ll need to do these things:

  • Replace old, unhealthy habits for new, healthy ones
  • See the benefits of your new lifestyle
  • Master techniques to maintain the new lifestyle
  • Use rewards for progress, in order to be self-motivated
  • Learn to recognize and avoid temptation

Maintenance

The Maintenance stage takes place once a person has maintained their behavior change (or goal) for at least 6 months. Many of their habits are now healthy. They have a full understanding of the benefits of their change. The biggest risk now is relapse- falling back into unhealthy habits. They must be aware of stressful situations that could cause them to slip. In this stage, it’s helpful to have support from others and stay highly motivated via groups, a doctor, books, or a health coach.

To summarize, if you want to stick with your new lifestyle changes, you’ll need to do these 2 things:

  • Be aware of stressful situations that could cause old, unhealthy patterns to surface
  • Gain support in order to stay highly motivated

 
Relapse

Relapse happens when an individual slips back into unhealthy habits. Stress, a lack of support, or too much temptation can all cause a relapse. Relapse is common for everyone- even the most disciplined people. If a relapse happens, it’s helpful to jump back into the appropriate stage and not dwell on the feelings of disappointment or embarrassment. Take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to do differently- and then jump right back in where you left off!
 
Be Honest with Yourself
Within these stages of behavior change, it’s important to take action in ways that will empower your long term success. Research has shown that the best way to avoid relapsing into old habits is to be aware and realistic with potential situations that could throw you off track. Is there a work party coming up that is going to be full of sweet treats? Do you have the skills to avoid the social pressures of situations where your willpower will be tested? Can you check in on all of the benefits on maintaining your goal long term? If you’re mindful of yourself, and allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself- you increase your chances of success!
 
Summary
In order to maintain your goal long term you will need to go through the stages of behavior change, until you have reached the maintenance stage. Once there, you’ll need to focus on gaining support and maintaining healthy habits. If you relapse into former, unhealthy habits, you can jump right back in where you left off.

Aimee Frazier