Behaviour Change: How to Break the Cycle

At some point we’ve all done it. We’ve said it, thought it, bought new gym clothes/ shoes/membership or taken up walking … only to fall short of our goal or go off the rails a few weeks later. This post isn’t to make you feel guilty about it. Instead it’s to give you the opportunity to start something real and make a tangible change to your health with the support you need. It’s also been written to help you understand why you may often struggle to make changes on your own.

Before I get into helping you, you may be able to help yourself. Functional health is all-encompassing, and I’m not here to preach the same things you’ve heard time and time again; eat well, sleep well and exercise more. Functional health is simply defined as the opposite to Dysfunctional health. You should feel good every day. So even if you don’t have a disease, a joint problem, or an overarching reason behind poor health, you may recognise that you don’t feel as good as you possibly could. We’re here to help you make a change. However, it does need to start with you.

A trans-theoretical method of behaviour change has been established to help the understanding of change. Although it is a little dated, and certainly not a direct indicator of change, it is helpful to identify patterns and establish your starting point. The stages are as follows:

Pre-contemplation: People in this stage aren’t thinking seriously about making a change and will defend their current pattern of daily living. Maybe this is due to them not seeing it as a problem. Or the benefits of making a change don’t outweigh the current negatives or adverse consequences of behaviour. And so people are happy to continue as they are.

Contemplation: People in this stage are ready to consider the possibility of change, whether it be quitting a negative behaviour or taking up an entirely new positive behaviour. This stage is enjoyable and exciting, but still has with it the possibility of some adverse consequences, so people are hesitant.

Preparation: This is where people begin to attempt change. It’s where small steps are taken towards changing behaviour, and the time for change is imminent. Equally however, this stage is where people also decide not to do anything about their behaviour, and that’s why it is important to try and bring someone else on board.

Action: This is where the steps start to become bigger and people actively start completing movements towards the significant change! This can involve several different techniques. It is also important to have support due to the risk associated with change, as it can be an uncomfortable time.

Maintenance: In this stage, people are usually able to avoid any temptation to return to their previous behaviour, and have learnt to anticipate and handle any temptations to do so. This doesn’t mean slip ups won’t occur, but they are no longer seen as a failure to achieve the desired overall outcome.

Whilst these stages are written in a sequential order, the image below identifies it better as an ongoing upward spiral where all stages are met repeatedly (hence the benefit of someone having your back and encouraging you to continue when you really don’t feel like it).

So really, we don’t break the cycle; we just turn it into a spiral and change the direction. However, sometimes things can break down even with the best plans in place.

This is referred to as a relapse. It is important, however, not to see this as a negative. A relapse in behaviour can be important in learning. It can also help a person become stronger in their resolve, and research actually shows this to be an important part of change.

That’s where we, as health professionals, come in. The benefits identified from having two contact points per week with a significant person in your pathway have been well established at creating long-lasting and tangible change. Your practitioner here at Physiotas can be beneficial in creating this change, but for now, try this:

  • Choose a behaviour from your life you have changed, or attempted to change (related to exercise, diet, injury rehabilitation or smoking as examples). Note down the processes you went through using the above stages of change, and record if you achieved your desired outcome or if you can identify any relapses/slip ups.

Ultimately its okay if you have slipped up, tried something different and realised it wasn’t for you, or attempted to break a habit with no success. If, as you have been reading this, you’ve been thinking about something you would like to change, now is your best opportunity.

A great first step is to have a discussion with one of our practitioners here at Physiotas. We have a multidisciplinary team able to assist you in a range of different areas including exercise, diet, injury management, pain management and lifestyle change.

Call your nearest Physiotas practice or go online to book an appointment today and start the process for change now!

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About the Author:

Robert Talbot is an Exercise Physiologist for Physiotas on the North West Coast.

Robert studied a bachelor of Exercise Science, followed by Professional Honours in Exercise Physiology, at the University of Tasmania, completing his studies in 2017. He enjoys the amazing outcomes that exercise and activity can provide when done with the correct instruction and guidance.  He has a  specific interest in the role exercise has in the improvement of musculoskeletal, cardio-respiratory and metabolic health conditions.

 Rob has experience in fitness instruction, and in strength and conditioning coaching for football, basketball and netball teams.  He enjoys arranging personalised, graded activity programs for individual clients and running group exercise programs and he has a wealth of exercise knowledge ready for any level. 

Outside of work, Rob happily throws his hand to anything, most recently an addiction to mountain biking.