Overcoming the Barriers to Change

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American Counseling Association

The New Year is a time when many of us think about a new start, about changing something in our lives that hasn’t been making us happy or hasn’t been contributing to good health. It may be a commitment to stop smoking, to lose weight, to exercise more regularly or even to just spend more enjoyable time with those we love.

Changing behavior can be a good thing, but it’s important to remember that change doesn’t just happen overnight. There are frequently barriers that can make changing behavior difficult.

In many cases we may not, at first, even recognize that there is a behavior that needs to be overcome. We may even feel a desire to continue that behavior, even a harmful one, by rationalizing the lack of need to change (“Smoking relaxes me.”).

When you do identify a less than desirable behavior, consider the pros and cons of making the change. How will your life be better, or worse, if you do or don’t make the desired change.

Next identify the barriers that can keep you from taking action. Maybe you aren’t motivated enough. Maybe friends and family won’t really support your actions and you’ll feel isolated or silly.  Are there financial limitations that keep you from moving forward? Will a dietary change make your food choices more expensive? Does it seem impossible to find time for that gym or other regular exercise?

Once you identify your barriers to change, then make a plan on how to overcome them. Check if healthier food choices really will raise your food bill. Look at your schedule and see where you could fit in brisk walks or aerobics classes. If it’s a difficult change, maybe smoking cessation, check with your physician, a professional counselor, or local hospital program for resources to help you. 

You want to develop a real commitment and passion for changing the behavior you’ve identified. Make a plan, put it into action, and then work to maintain that plan.

Most importantly, if you relapse to your old behavior, don’t give up. Look carefully at why you’ve stalled or slipped and seek ways to overcome that issue when you try again.

Don’t try to change several things all at once.  And don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time you try!  Serious behavioral changes are always difficult, but with good planning they are achievable. 

“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.