Understanding How People Change After a Diagnosis

Updated:Mar 29,2016

Why is it important for you to know about the stages of change? Because having heart disease, a heart attack, heart surgery or a stroke is all about change — for the survivor and for you. You can help encourage the change process if you can recognize the stages your loved one is in for different health habits. This allows you to help your loved one move through the process. And you can see those health habits where you and your loved one might have conflict.

Studies show that people's ability to make a new habit permanent is based on their readiness to change. In fact, people naturally go through several different stages before a new behavior becomes a habit. These include:

  • Precontemplation (Not interested): Not even thinking about changing the old habit.
  • Contemplation (Maybe): Thinking about changing but not doing anything about it.
  • Preparations (Definitely a possibility): Doing something about changing, but not regularly.
  • Action (Doing it): Changing the old habit regularly, but for less than six months.
  • Maintenance (Been there, still doing it): Habit has been changed regularly for six months or longer.

Roadblocks to moving forward
As people encounter different roadblocks, they're likely to slip backward into earlier stages. But they move forward to the next stage as they learn new information and skills to help make the habit stick. Your loved one will likely move through the following stages in attempting to change lifestyle habits. Follow these tips to help remove the roadblocks to change.

In precontemplation:

  • Learn how new healthy habits can help.
  • Talk to people who have made healthy changes.
  • Ask the healthcare providers to explain to your loved one how changing certain behaviors may reduce risk for another heart attack, stroke or heart surgery.

In contemplation:

  • Just try the new habit.
  • Start with something simple and manageable: eat one meatless meal or walk around the block.
  • Don't expect too much too soon. Take pleasure in the small victories.

In preparation:

  • Set goals.
  • Develop and write down a specific plan for reaching the goals.
  • Recruit friends or family to help.

In action:

  • Make sure the new habit includes plenty of variety so you don't get bored.
  • Anticipate situations that may trigger a relapse.
  • If your loved one does lapse, analyze what led to the lapse and identify solutions he or she can use to cope with the problem in the future.
  • Help your loved one keep a positive mental attitude.

This content was last reviewed on 12/18/2014.


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