We Say We Want to Change But…
I love practical advice on how to get the most out of life. You’ll find me consuming self-improvement books, articles, and podcasts any chance I get. I take notes on what I’ve learned. I save inspirational quotes. I keep a growing list of actions I can take to build better habits.
Give me a vision to change something I don’t like about myself and I am all over it. Throw in a plan with steps to follow and I commit on the spot. No hesitation or much consideration. I am all in until the work gets too hard or tedious or messy. Then I pick apart the plan and find or fabricate its flaws and finally abandon it. Any sense of guilt will be outweighed by relief. I am off the hook!
But I don’t feel right because I know I didn’t give it my best effort. I push this aside and lose myself in the next self-help quest, consuming fresh and even more promising options. The possibilities soothe me. The research feels productive. Maybe I just acted too quickly last time. So, I hang out here in safe, non-committal preparation mode for a while. Or indefinitely.
Does this sound extreme or exaggerated? Maybe I have too little focus and too much time on my hands. Or am I just stuck? Ugh…being stuck: resisting change even though I know it could do me a world of good. We hate to admit it to ourselves, much less anyone else. We’ll go to incredible lengths to maintain our stuckness, even when the way out is clear and would actually be easier than maintaining our misery. The comfort of the familiar wins out over the fear of the unknown again and again and again.
I used to agonize over being stuck, assuming my struggle was unique. If I knew a change would be good for me, why couldn’t I just decide to do it, jump in and make it happen already? Now I know that the struggle to change is pretty universal. Everyone gets stuck from time to time with different things and for all sorts of reasons. That’s normal. Being stuck does not mean we are flawed or lazy or inept.
What’s helped me the most (personally and in coaching) is a behavioral change model I learned about in school. The Stages of Change or Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change helps us understand where we’re at in the process of change and what to do at each phase. The term “process” is key here because there are steps we can take before and after we make a change to help us follow through and make it stick.
The Stages of Change model also helps us handle the common issue of abandoning a new healthy behavior or returning to a former unhealthy behavior, often called relapse. When it comes to changing or creating new habits, it’s rare to nail it on the first attempt, then maintain it for the long haul. With the right amount of flexibility and tools, we can continue to try until until we’re successful and learn how to maintain our hard-earned healthy habits.
Here’s a breakdown of the phases in the Stages of Change / Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change. No false promises that healthy habits are easy to create, come overnight or that we can coast once we reach them. Just honest work and long-lasting results and the opportunity to get unstuck and jump in anywhere and anytime we need it.
Precontemplation – no intention to take action in the near future; learning new information + pros and cons of behavior change
Contemplation – thinking about change and intending to take action in the near future; feeling negative about unhealthy behaviors and envisioning life after making a change
Preparation – ready to change with intent to take action; has a plan or has taken some steps to change behavior; gaining confidence in and committed to engaging in healthy behaviors
Action – has taken action and is changing health behaviors; ideally engaged in social support and reinforcing positive behavior change; feeling decreased rewards for unhealthy behaviors
Maintenance – has made significant behavior changes and now focusing efforts on not returning to previous behaviors; removing cues for unhealthy behaviors while adding cues for healthy ones