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Overcoming Barriers to Change


As the familiar adage says, "old habits die hard"—but they don't have to! Replacing a bad habit with a good one takes time and patience, and is well worth the end result. If you want to successfully modify a habit, you must make realistic and gradual changes one step at a time.

Stages of Change explored the way individuals typically move through a series of pre-determined stages when trying to alter a behavior. The second part in this series, Strategies for Change, provided tips and tools to assess change and suggested actions to take that may help you successfully change a behavior. Now, we will take a look at barriers to change and provide helpful solutions for overcoming them.


The Stages of Change are:

  • Pre-contemplation—not yet acknowledging there is a behavior that needs to be changed,
  • Contemplation—acknowledging there is a need for change but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change,
  • Preparation/Determination—getting ready to change,
  • Action/Willpower—making the change,
  • Maintenance—maintaining the behavior change, and
  • Relapse—reverting to previous behaviors and moving away from the new behavior.

One important step in the process of avoiding obstacles to change is figuring out what barriers might derail your progress. Barriers are those things that interrupt your goal of making a lasting change.

Sometimes, however, no matter how hard you try, you may experience roadblocks along the way. If that happens, try to get back on track quickly. Become a problem-solver, anticipating and out-smarting any barriers that may be in your way. Ask yourself: "What has stopped me from changing this habit in the past?" and "What might impede my future efforts?" Write down your reasons for not changing. Then, write a response for each barrier to help you re-evaluate your actions. By identifying barriers now—and having a plan to get past them—you will be in a good position to make the change.

The table below lists some common barriers and solutions to overcoming them.

Barrier Solution
"I'll never be able to change my _____ habit." Don't give into your fear of failure. Start slowly and set small measureable goals that are easy to achieve. Making a behavior change usually takes three months, so allow yourself time.
"I don't have time." Make the change a priority. Find time-management methods that work for you and don't try to make too many changes at once.
"It costs too much." Find cost-saving ways to incorporate your new habit into your budget. Save money by learning new techniques and planning in advance. Think about the benefits of changing.
"I can't make this change alone." Recruit friends and family for support and help. Find others who share the same goal and make changing a "team effort."
"I don't know enough about it." Do your research. You don't have to be an expert to change your behavior. A few simple tips and ideas can work wonders. Ask professionals you have access to—doctors, nurses, counselors, therapists, social workers—who can provide sound information.
"I'm not motivated." Think about your biggest reason for changing to motivate you when you want to quit. Also, try mixing things up to stay interested. Write down your motivators and keep them handy to remind you.

Remember, making lifestyle changes is hard, but you're more likely to succeed if you:

  • Know why you want or need to change.
  • Set realistic, measurable short- and long-term goals.
  • Identify your barriers.
  • Set up a support group and reward system.

Always remember to keep track of your efforts and be flexible when dealing with planned or unplanned changes. In the end, the results are more than worth the effort.

Good luck and stay positive!

Some content provided by the Weight-control Information Network and WebMD.

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