Here it is — a new year and new decade to boot. This could be the perfect time to change our not-so-healthful habits. Are we ready?

A poem attributed to Portia Nelson (see below) seems to describe the stages we go through on our way to changing unhealthy behaviors. Whether we need to eat better, lose weight or kick an addiction, our ability to actually do what we need to do depends on what professionals call our “readiness to change.” In other words, they say we can only make changes when we are ready.

Stage 1: Precontemplation: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost … I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Translation: “I can’t see my problem so I can’t see a solution.” We remain in this stage until we begin to realize the risks of staying on our current path or the benefits of doing something different.

Stage 2: Contemplation: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Translation: “I know I need to make a change. I’m thinking about it. I’m just not ready to go there yet.” This is the “I know what I need to do; I just don’t want to do it” stage.

Stage 3: Preparation: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there. I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Translation: “I’m preparing to do what I need to do. But I’m still not totally convinced I can do this.” This is where we need a clear-cut plan. What can I do differently? How and when will I do it? What will I need to give up to make this change?

Stage 4: Action: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Woohoo! This is where we actually do what we have planned. We’re excited about our choices. And we need encouragement to stay on track.

Stage 5: Maintenance : I walk down another street.

Translation: “I am strongly committed to this new path. I don’t want to go back to where I was.” It takes conscious work to stay in this stage. But it’s worth it.

You can do it! Happy new decade!

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian nutritionist affiliated with the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula