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Strategies for lasting change in your life

Free Press Article – December 30, 2011

Dr. Paula King

“I’m trying. I mean it, I am trying really hard to make the changes we talked about since the last time I saw you.”

Whether it’s following a diabetes plan, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy eating plan, managing anxiety or depression, or dealing with cancer, the struggle to make and keep healthy lifestyle changes is a challenge for everyone.

Too often lifestyle changes are fleeting experiences, and as Yoda said in “Star Wars”: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

“Trying” is a word used to describe the period of time in which someone is thinking about, and experimenting with, a new thought or behavior to decide if they will commit to it. Commitment happens when you are doing something that is extremely important to you. Lasting change requires a commitment to action based on what you personally desire for your life. Commitment cannot be imposed as a “should.”

In almost every situation the words, should, have to, must, need to and got to, are associated with trying, and are ultimately demotivators, stopping lasting change from happening by immediately, or eventually, creating an inner rebelliousness that says: “No one can tell me what I have to do!”

And, no one includes you saying these words in an attempt to get yourself to do something. Rather, in order to stop trying to maintain change, and begin to do it for keeps, ask your self what you value about changing your body and your health. What do you want, desire, prefer and/or value that will be a result of making a change. Make a list of what is important to you and remind yourself daily of what you intend to do for your life and how come it is important to you to make the changes you have decided you want to make.

Once on the road to making a change, you will go through these predictable stages.


  1. Unconscious incompetence: You are willing to experiment with an idea, a behavior, or an activity even though you know little about it and are not sure what is expected. Your attempts at the new way of thinking or behaving are not skilled and that is OK because you are just trying out something new without any expectations of how you will do.

  2. Conscious incompetence: It’s still a new idea, behavior or activity, but now you have a model of how you want to perform and you have goals for yourself. You just aren’t skilled at it yet. It FEELS awkward!

  3. Conscious competence: You’re following your model and gaining in skill, but you are still conscious about what you’re doing or thinking. Sometimes it still FEELS awkward.

  4. Unconscious competence: You’ve got it! You know you’ve got it because it’s a habit and most times you don’t even have to think to behave the way you have been practicing. It FEELS comfortable.

Once you have established a new habit you can look to these qualities as further confirmation that it is a habit with lasting potential:

  1. Do you fully believe the change is healthy for you? Too often a change is made because someone else tells you it would be good for you, but you may not be really convinced. If you do not believe in the merits of the change it is unlikely to be lasting.

  2. A positive change creates inner feelings of anticipation, peace, joy, excitement, confidence or other positive emotions.

  3. The feeling of courage is present when acting upon your change.

  4. You believe the action associated with your change is meaningful for your life and fits your value system.

  5. The action associated with your change requires you to develop a positive aspect of yourself.

  6. Your change is a choice made in service of what you desire for your life.

May 2012 be the year in which you give yourself the gift of lasting change, health and well-being.


Dr. Paula King is a licensed psychologist, who also holds certifications as a health coach, a HeartMath® biofeedback practitioner, an interactive imagery guide, and a sport psychologist. She can be reached at Healing Horizons, 256-8449.

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