The decision to adopt a healthier behavior — whether it’s more exercise, weight loss, or quitting smoking — is not as simple as just deciding to do it. Numerous studies, shows that people cycle through a variety of stages before a new behavior is successfully adopted over the long term.

Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation. People at this stage have no plans or desire to exercise. They aren’t even considering exercising. They are generally unaware of the specific benefits that exercise can bring — exercise may seem more like a hassle than something worth doing. Or, they may simply have “failed” in the past and have given up.

There’s no point in talking about how to start an exercise program if you are at this stage. Instead, it is important to think about how exercise might be good for you personally — by helping you to lose weight, feel better, have more confidence, live longer, sleep better, or reduce your stress levels. The benefits must be identified before a person will consider exercise.

If you are at this stage, a good activity is to ask four friends or family members why they exercise. Their answers may show you some real-life benefits, and inspire enough interest to compel you to take the next step.

Stage 2: Contemplation. A person at this stage is thinking, “I think I should probably exercise, but I need help getting started.” People at this stage know that exercise is good for them, but it seems like a daunting task or they don’t think they can pull it off. Some may have tried and “failed” in the past, but they are still receptive to another go-round.

It’s important for people at this stage to consider some of the truths and falsehoods of exercise. For example, it is helpful to know that there are many forms of physical activity to select from, and that you can do your exercising in small chunks. It is not true that exercise has to be painful, or that you either succeed or fail. There is no such thing as “failure” — people become more or less active at different stages of their lives, and it is never too late to get moving again. And people at this stage should find assurance that an exercise plan can be very simple.

If you are at this stage, a good activity is to write down all the things that you believe make exercise difficult — and to learn strategies for overcoming or side-stepping those hurdles. People at this stage might benefit from making a pledge, contract, or other commitment that they are going to get more active in the near future. The goal is to get unstuck by identifying the roadblocks and the ways to overcome these roadblocks. The final goal at this stage is to make a commitment.