Change, a word that when read, said, or even thought may evokes an eye roll, a sour feeling in the pit of your stomach, irritation, and of course resistance. And if you tend to be stubborn, like me, the resistance seems to be the first and safest position to assume until change is proven worthwhile. This behavior would be likened to the first of five stages of change defined by psychologist, James Prochaska, pre-contemplation. This is when people don’t realize they have a problem or they don’t believe they need to change. For instance, your doctor tells you need to lose weight and exercise to help lower your A1C (blood sugar) or you’ll be diagnosed with diabetes, but you feel fine and think he’s over reacting or exaggerating. Or, a friend or family member keep mentioning that you seem stressed, and you snap back that you’re fine. This is pre-contemplation, where you’re not yet contemplating what to change, because you don’t think you have anything to change. To propel yourself out of this stage might require some help developing awareness or additional knowledge.
Alright, you’re to the point that you see a problem and finally agree that your health or a situation in your life could be better. Thus, you begin pondering, maybe weighing the pros and cons and flipping the preverbal coin back and forth. Maybe something similar to this has played in your head, “Well, if I try to eat better and exercise maybe I won’t get diabetes and heck I might even shave off some weight and have a little more energy. But, it takes so much time and money to eat healthy and I don’t like all that rabbit food anyway. Besides, I’m sure my knee will start to bother me again too if I try to work out”. A sort of change purgatory. Teetering back and forth between the should and shouldn’ts, can’s and cants, wants and don’t wants, hope and hopeless, excitement and fear. All this back and forth can wreak havoc on our minds and leave us frustrated and frozen and where must people get stuck. This is where evaluating the costs and benefits to the proposed change can be helpful. Make a list, talk it out, whatever works for you to articulate and conceptualize what this change might mean for you. What will you have to give up? What will you gain? Is it worth it to you? What is the cost of not doing anything? What will you gain by making this change? How might your life be different if you made this change? Answers to these questions might just propel you into the next stage of change or convince you to stay put for the time being.
If you just committed to making a change in the near future.
Welcome! You’re now in the preparation stage of change. This might be you if you have a sticky note on your mirror reminding you of a daily goal, you just announced your planned change to those around you, or made excessive amazon purchases in preparation (guilty!). Or, you could be experimenting with small steps towards the change/goal like trying a new food, passing on dessert, or attending a new exercise class. Planners love this stage, assessing all the logistical needs, making lists, drumming up support etc. For those of us who are less inclined to enjoy the nitty gritty of planning, developing a SMART goal might be right fit. Identifying Goals that are Specific (What do you want to accomplish), Measurable (How will you know you’ve met the goal), Achievable (Is it realistic), Relevant (Why is it important to you), and Time-specific (day, time, month – when will the goal be met).
Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to take-action. As my husband loves to say, “Stop talking about it and start being about it!” This is when things start happening, you’ve started breaking in a new habit or routine, made a change in your environment, a relationship, or a job etc. This of course requires commitment and often a reminder of the reason you decided to make this change to begin with, support from others, review of your progress, or visualization of what things will look like and feel like for you when you’ve succeeded. Of course, bumps in the road will come, missteps, and detours are likely, and probably at some point you’ll need to recover and regroup - no need to panic or feel shame. Take-a-knee and reevaluate the plan and modify it with the knowledge gained so that you can continue to be the best possible change agent for yourself. Don’t see set-backs or miscalculations as failure, see it as a mechanism to provide valuable information and insight to leverage – you’re learning and adapting as needed! Maybe you just learned you can’t just eat one Girl Scout cookie, but do a terrific job demolishing that whole sleeve of thin mints. Okay, lesson learned, so no more buying Girl Scout cookies (sorry Girl Scouts!). Nobody is perfect, and you can’t predict every possible obstacle or event even with the most meticulous of planning so cut yourself some slack (I’m talking to you perfectionists) and get back on track, modify your plan, or change it all together - you’re in the driver’s seat!
You’ve come along way, likely made a lot of sacrifices to be here, but you made it (woohoo)!! Welcome to the Maintenance Phase. This is the phase you enter after holding on to your accomplishment(s)/change for at least 6 months. At this point temptations have lessened, and old habits are fading. You may look back at this point and marvel in your awesomeness - yeah you did that! Stay strong and keep chugging along, you’re doing terrific. However, there is one little catch I should mention. The stages of change aren’t a clean linear line, you may cycle through various stages multiple times . Making change feel more like a game of Chutes and Ladders, but less fun. This is normal and all part of adaptive learning to help you become a masterful change agent.
What change do you want to make?
How might your life be different if you made this change?
On a scale from 1-10 how motivated are you to make this change?