When knowledge is not enough overcoming psychological roadblocks to lifestyle change

When knowledge is not enough: Overcoming psychological roadblocks to lifestyle change

We all know the drill.

Exercising regularly, eating wisely, managing blood pressure, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, moderating alcohol intake, and reducing stress are keys to healthy living and reducing risk for developing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

While knowledge can be empowering, knowledge alone does not necessarily translate into healthy living. Research suggests a number of psychological roadblocks can, and often do, sabotage our efforts at healthy living, even if our lives depend on it:

Health Beliefs

Our beliefs about health can determine whether we consider, start, or maintain healthy habits. Those who do not see themselves as susceptible to developing chronic disease, or who believe changing their behaviour won’t reduce their risk, will be less motivated to change their habits.

make-it-happenWhat to do: Honestly and objectively assess your risk profile. Talk to your healthcare team about your risk of developing chronic disease given your lab findings, age, sex, family/health history, and lifestyle. Treat any past unsuccessful attempts at healthy living not as failures, but as learning opportunities. Then apply lessons learned from these past experiences to your new health plan.


Studies suggest that behaviour change occurs in five stages defined by one’s degree of readiness, including: 1) not thinking about change; 2) thinking about change; 3) preparing for change; 4) making changes; and 5) maintaining changes. People can be at different stages of readiness at any time.

What to do: Assess your stage of readiness for change for a given health behaviour. In STAGE 1, consider possible consequences for not changing and how the behaviour affects your life and family. In STAGE 2, explore any mixed feelings about making changes and reasons why change might be beneficial. In STAGE 3, experiment with introducing small changes to see what works best. In STAGES 4 and 5, establish rewards for achieving goals, create a plan for managing stressful situations (e.g., holidays), and connect with supportive people.


Negative emotional states such as depression, anxiety, and stress can zap energy levels, motivation, and desire to engage in preventative health behaviours. Any negative feelings about yourself can derail healthy living by fueling negative emotions, procrastination or avoidance. Efforts to cope can also be problematic and include under-/over-eating, increased caffeine or nicotine use, or alcohol and drug abuse.

What to do: Share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member. Learn ways to reduce stress and improve life balance. For additional support, consult your Copeman physician, family health nurse or a member of the Copeman Healthcare psychology team.