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7 Strategies for Making Change Less Stressful

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Female nutritionist giving consultation to patient. Making diet plan.Whenever I meet with a new client, I can feel their apprehension about making any lifestyle changes within the first few minutes – especially .

It’s the worry about never being able to have their favorite foods again. The fear of not being able to stick with it. The judgement from friends and family, who, in their opinion, are going to alienate them from social functions, happy hours, and dinner parties (you know, once those are in full swing again).

The emotions and ‘what ifs’ that come up for some people can seriously derail them from a life they love and completely deserve. Just the idea of change becomes such a roadblock that they’d rather stay stuck in their current patterns than take steps toward something different.

Sound familiar? If so, stick around because I’m going to unpack why change is so stressful and tangible steps you can take to make it easier.

Why Is Change So Hard?

Your brain likes to keep you safe — that’s one of its very important jobs. It loves keeping you safely tucked inside your comfort zone where everything is nice and predictable. Why? Because when you experience change, your brain interprets it as a threat, so any action you attempt to take that’s outside your comfort zone will be sabotaged because of your basic human needs for .

Unfortunately, resisting change, even something that’s good for your health and wellbeing, is in your nature.

Psychologist and creator of the (or TTM), James Prochaska says we resist change, not because of the change itself, but our perception of change. It’s that deep down threat to our safety and security.

Is It a Setback or Progress?

Altering your behaviours takes time and often involves backtracking, which may feel like a setback, but it’s not. You’re still moving forward. That’s because change isn’t a one-time event. It’s actually a series of non-linear events that happen over time, meaning you go back and forth between the stages, working through them until the change becomes fully established and there’s limited chance of you going back to your old ways.

Check out the Transtheoretical Model Stages of Change to see what I mean:

  • In the Pre-Contemplation Stage… You want to make a change, but you have no conscious intention of doing it. While this may make you feel like you’re not onboard, it’s a good sign. And it’s the first step in the process.
  • In the Contemplation Stage…. You begin to have an internal debate about making a change and might on why it’s important to you.
  • In the Preparation Stage… You’re weighing the consequences of your change and may take a small step toward it. If you want to change your diet, you might join the Keto Reset group on Facebook or research paleo recipes online.
  • In the Action Stage… This is where you go from planning to doing. You’re engaging in online groups and cooking up a few of the paleo recipes that sound interesting to you.
  • In the Maintenance Stage… In this stage, you’ve secured new habits, making your old habits feel less intense or frequent.

On top of that, research shows that you’ll have more success if you perceive your change through a positive lens. In an analysis of 129 studies of behaviour change strategies, one research group found that the least effective approaches to change were ones initiated by a sense of fear or regret.

So, if you want to change your diet because you’re afraid of developing diabetes or that you might not be able to chase your kids or grandkids around someday, you’ll have a reduced chance of succeeding with that change, statistically speaking. Studies also show that changes are easier to make when they’re specific. Eating a Big Ass Salad for lunch every day is going to get you way further than saying “I need to start eating heathy.”

So, How Do You Make Change Easier?

Too often, we’re motivated by guilt, fear, or comparison. But experts agree that the best approach is one that’s rooted in self-motivation and positivity. With that in mind, here are 7 strategies I share with my own clients to help them feel more confident around making change.

  1. Know That Change is the Only Constant in Life
    We get so caught up in forcing things to stay the same (maintain the same weight, keep the same job, etc) that we end up making it harder on ourselves. Get comfortable with the idea that life is meant to change, and you’ll see that going with the flow is a lot better than forcing every aspect of your life.
  2. Reel Your Imagination Back In
    It’s easy to go off the deep end, imagining all the things that could happen once you start making this change. But, as the quote goes, “worry is a misuse of the imagination,” so try to stay in the moment. And while you’re at it, see if you can take the emotion out of what you’re thinking and maintain a neutral mindset.
  3. Focus on the Positive
    Instead of dwelling on the fact that you won’t be grabbing a muffin and OJ in the morning, think about what positives you could experience. Maybe you end up figuring out that you always felt lethargic after your daily gluten bomb. Or that you don’t miss the way you’d get hangry mid-morning. Or maybe you realize you love the smell of freshly cooked bacon in the morning.
  4. Get Specific
    Like I mentioned earlier, changes will happen much more easily (and be way less stressful) if you have a specific plan.
  5. Break it Down into Baby Steps
    Now that you know what specific change you’ll be making, break it down into small steps. Say you want to lower your stress level by meditating every morning. Literally write out the steps you’ll need to do to make it happen. Step 1 might be to download a guided meditation app the night before; step 2: set your alarm for 6am; step 3: sit on your yoga mat; step 4: sit and meditate. You get the idea.
  6. Don’t Change Everything at Once
    Even if you’re really motivated, if you change too many things at the same time, you’ll overtax your attention and compromise your long-term success. The body and brain love consistency and certainty, so when you do embark on a change, see if you can maintain most of your current routine, whether it’s walking the dog before work, watching your favorite TV shows at night, or keeping to the same sleep schedule.
  7. Realize You Don’t Have to Shout It from the Rooftops
    Some people love sharing their dietary plans and preferences with the world for accountability and support. For others, it just adds stress. You know yourself better than anyone else, and if declaring your breakup with bread causes a panic attack, feel free to keep it to yourself and work your way through those stages of change solo.

7 Ways to Make Change Less Stressful

Change can be a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. Knowing that it’s a process makes it easier to pick yourself back up when you do slip up or fall off the wagon. Practice these strategies and before you know it, you’ll be swapping your toast and OJ routine for a tray of bacon and eggs for good.

  1. Know That Change is the Only Constant in Life
  2. Reel Your Imagination Back In
  3. Focus on the Positive
  4. Get Specific
  5. Break it Down into Baby Steps
  6. Don’t Change Everything at Once
  7. Realize You Don’t Have to Shout It from the Rooftops

Now it’s your turn! How do you deal with change?

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