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Six Steps That Can Change Your Life

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Stage 2: Contemplation

Now you're seriously considering change, but you're not ready to start yet. This is a stage of inertia; some people spend years stuck here. Relax. Your next step is planning. If you keep sliding back to the contemplation stage, it's probably because you flung yourself straight into action too soon -- don't.

Strategy: Figure Out What's Blocking You

  • Take an honest look: what's really preventing you from getting started?
  • Get committed. Promise yourself you'll overcome those obstacles.

Stage 3: Preparation

You've made a commitment and you're planning to take action soon, probably within the next month.

Strategy: Make Yourself a Plan

  • Think through all the details: Will you walk or swim? Where and when will you exercise? What kind of clothing or equipment do you need?
  • Draw up a contract with yourself. Set three goals: one for the nextmonth, one for six months, and one for a year. Reward yourself for each goal accomplished. Set an initial goal you're sure to attain; early success will propel you onward.
  • Develop a detailed contingency plan. Where will you walk if it rains? How will you exercise when you visit your in-laws? What will you do on days you're tired?
  • Make a public commitment. Ask for support from your friends and have them follow up on your progress.

Stage 4: Action

Now it's time to "just do it."

Strategy: Put Your Plan in Motion

  • Make your environment conducive to exercise. Leave notes reminding yourself to work out, for instance, and have your clothes ready ahead of time.
  • Reward yourself for sticking to your plan.
  • Think long-term. You're forming a lifelong habit here. No need to fret about a missed day; you have the next 50 years to make it up.

Stage 5: Maintenance

You've been exercising regularly for six months, and you've realized you can do it.

Strategy: Work Out the Kinks

  • Create a mental image of yourself exercising and think of it often. This "exercise identity" will help the habit stick.
  • Learn from your mistakes, and figure out how to avoid them next time.
  • Watch for the benefits to happen -- less huffing and puffing, more energy -- and relish them.

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