Lasting behavior change is not something that comes easy for most of us humans – it takes time, patience, hard work, motivation, commitment. The truth is, if you want something bad enough you are going to have to work for it, and the process of change starts with understanding how ready (aware & motivated) are you to do something different?
Psychology pioneers Dr. James Prochaska and Dr. Carlos DiClemente have proposed there are five Stages Of Change we go through when it comes to change:
1. Pre-contemplation. People in this stage are often described as “in denial” due to claims that their behavior is not a problem. If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions:
- Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past?
- How do you recognize that you have a problem?
- What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem?
2. Contemplation. During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing. If you are contemplating a behavior change, there are some important questions to ask yourself:
- Why do you want to change?
- Is there anything preventing you from changing?
- What are some things that could help you make this change?
3. Preparation. During the preparation stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods. If your goal is to quit smoking, you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books. If you are in the preparation stage, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of successfully making a lasting life change:
- Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behavior.
- Prepare a list of motivating statements and write down your goals.
- Find outside resources such as support groups, counselors or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.
4. Action. During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time.For example, many people make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, begin eating a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked. If you are currently taking action towards achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take:
- Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change.
- Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.
5. Maintenance. The maintenance phase of the Stages of Change Model involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up new behaviors. During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue their change. If you are trying to maintain a new behavior:
- Look for ways to avoid temptation.
- Try replacing old habits with more positive actions.
- Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse.
- If you do lapse, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was just a minor setback.
- As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.
So take a moment to think about something that is important to you that you would like to change…what stage of change are you in?
Lastly, when I think of people in the helping profession who are experts in the change niche I think of Psychotherapist, Author & Speaker Bill O’Hanlon and his proposed Anatomy of Change. Mr. O’Hanlon adds the following areas of focus for further understanding of the change process:
- Main principles of interest – social following / influence, contextual influences, loss avoidance/aversion.
- Changing patterns – identifying problem / unwanted pattern, changing problem patterns, search for exceptions.
- Solution talk – Exceptions to the Problem Rule, The End Game, Highlighting Choice, Find Context of Commonplace, Worse Case Comparison, Taping Into Altruistic Expertise.
- Dissolving impossibility talk – Spinning Problems Into the Past, Going Unglobal, Spinning Reality/Truth Claims into Perceptions.