Is ‘Just Do It’ Bad Advice?


clergy-at-spirited-life-workshopClergy generally have very few opportunities to focus on their own health and well-being, to take time away to reflect on how they are doing, or to simply participate in a worship service without leading it. But in each of the past three years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative has given them that opportunity. From January to March we have hosted a series of three-day workshops across North Carolina for clergy entering our Spirited Life program.

Spirited Life workshops serve a dual purpose: to introduce clergy to the staff and the resources they will have access to over the coming two years of the program, and to give pastors the space to reflect on the current state of their health and the vision they have for it.

We recognize that pastors come to this gathering in different states of readiness for change – some arrive raring to go; others are more reticent. And even those who have identified a facet of their health that they wish to address may encounter challenges along the way. Nike might tell us to “JUST DO IT,” but making changes and sticking to them is much harder. So early on in the program, we share with clergy a model that James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed to better understand how the process of change works.

Prochaska concluded that behavior change is something that happens in stages, and that it has an upwardly spiraling effect. The following graphic illustrates the various stages and how movement between those stages takes place.

  1. Pre-contemplation – No intention of changing behavior
  2. Contemplation – Aware that a problem exists, but no commitment to action
  3. Preparation – Intent upon taking action
  4. Action – Active modification of behavior
  5. Maintenance – Sustained change: new behavior replaces old; generally recognized as a habit sustained for six months or more
  6. Relapse – Fall back into old patterns of behavior

What this model tells us is that relapse – falling away from one’s goals – is an expected part of the change cycle. It is not synonymous with failure, provided we use the experience as an opportunity to learn. By examining the situation – What triggered the relapse? What was going well beforehand? What caused me to break from that practice? – we become better prepared to resist the same temptations and distractions the next time we arrive at a place of sustained behavior change. Moreover, we don’t return to point zero after a relapse. The awareness of the goal already exists; therefore, we start further along the change cycle, with the benefit of additional strength and wisdom.

Equally important: it’s not necessary to tackle every goal at once. Someone who is actively engaging in more physical activity (Action Stage) may only be thinking about seeking help for depression (Contemplation Stage). Spirited Life provides clergy with a safe space to air the challenges they face at each stage of the process, and offers staff who are trained to listen and encourage. To learn more, visit our website.

— Kate Rugani

Image by Caren Swanson; stages of change diagram courtesy of

This entry was posted in Program Updates, Self Care and tagged , , , by Kate Rugani. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kate Rugani

Kate is communications director for the Clergy Health Initiative. She holds an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in integrated marketing communications and public relations. She has a background in both corporate and nonprofit communications and loves spreading the word about how organizations are helping real people. She enjoys hiking, trying new recipes, and hanging out with her husband and three kids.

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