When it comes to making changes, I am definitely not one to quickly pull the trigger. I consider the risks and rewards. I think about the pros and cons. I discuss it with others. And, sometimes, I think so much about all of the possible outcomes of the change that I don’t end up making the change at all, even when it is good for me.
Why is it so hard to make changes when we know that doing so would be, or at least could be, a very good thing? For some of us, making changes revolve around improving our diet and getting more exercise. For others, it’s about ending unhealthy relationships or addictions. Or maybe it’s something small like watching less television or being on our phones a little less everyday. Whatever it is, it seems like even if we’re highly motivated, making a change can be incredibly difficult.
Last week I asked you, the reader, to share what you believe to be roadblocks to making changes. Here’s what I got back from you (thank you) along with some of my own:
- Lack of time
- Lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
- Distractions (i.e. family, social media and television)
- Not feeling worthy of the time and attention it takes
- Lack of support
- Fear that the change will make things worse than the way things currently are
- Fear of being incapable of making the change
- Fear that the effort expended won’t be worth it
- Trying to change too much too soon
- Mental space is too crowded
- Lack of guidance and knowledge
For a lot of the things on this list, one thing is clear: attempting to make a change makes us vulnerable to an unfavorable outcome. But, wouldn’t you agree that the possibility of enriching our lives is worth the risk? So…..if we know that the change we’re trying to make could lead to a richer life, how do we go about it?
As a drug and alcohol counselor my first job when I met a new client was to gather information about their history and to assess what stage of change they were currently in. The hope was that they would be reaching another stage by the time they left. The transtheorectical model* of behavior change is not only applicable to people entering treatment, but to all of us. Here are the 5 stages of change. Which one fits you?
1) Precontemplation – a person in this stage is not planning to make a change in the foreseeable future. He/she has tried changing multiple times and failed and is not willing to acknowledge the consequences of what not making the change means. Sometimes this person appears to be unmotivated or resistant to change.
2) Contemplation – a person in this stage has an intent and desire to change sooner rather than later. They weigh the pros and cons of changing versus not changing, but focus more on the possible negative outcomes of change. They can become so ambivalent about whether or not to make the change that they don’t do it at all. A person can be stuck in this stage of change for a long time.
3) Preparation – a person in this stage of change is ready to change now. Chances are they already started working toward this change and have a plan of action.
4) Action – in this stage a person has made intentional and observable changes.
5) Maintenance – the biggest difference between this stage and the action stage of change is that not only has the person made intentional and observable changes, they’ve set up boundaries to prevent them from backsliding into the previous stages. Think of a person who decided to cut back on their sugar intake and now no longer keeps sugary sweets in the house so they’re not tempted to eat them.
Now that we’ve covered the 5 stages of change, look back at how I described my experience with change in the beginning of this article. Now, re-read the list of roadblocks that you guys graciously offered me. Do you see a theme here? All of the roadblocks, yours and mine, point toward a common theme. Most of us, if not all of us, have a tendency to be “stuck” in the contemplation stage of change. We want to make a change, but we fear the outcome. We let other distractions and uncertainties get in our way. We want to make the change, we’re just unwilling or unable to do so. We’re stuck!
So…..how do we get “un-stuck?” Below I outline 5 steps toward moving from thinking about making a big change to actually making a big change:
1) Decide if the change is worth it.
Any change we make, especially a big one, is going to have some period of discomfort. Afterall, if change were comfortable then we’d have no problem doing it! The question we need to ask ourselves is, is the change we’re making worth the time and effort it takes?
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Stan Goldberg says, “Uncomfortable change becomes punishing, and rational people don’t continue activities that are more painful than they are rewarding.” Whether we believe that the effort expended will be worth the discomfort could be easily answered by making a good ‘ol fashioned pros and cons list. But, I’d like to challenge this even a little further….don’t just make a pros and cons list of making a change. Make a second pros and cons list of not making a change. Exploring all sides will help clarify even more if the change is one that you want to make. If it is, go on to step 2!
You’ve probably heard this a million times. So, why is writing down your goal so useful? For one thing, it helps force you to visualize and specify exactly what it is that you want. We can’t plan a trip without choosing a destination!
Writing down your goals helps define what you want and motivates you to take action. According to a study done at the Dominican University of California, people who write down their goals are 33% more likely to accomplish them. So, get out that pen and paper!
3) Break down your goal into manageable pieces.
Now that you have your goal on paper, it’s time to refine it and figure out how you intend to make it happen. For starters, get specific! The more specific you get, the more measurable and attainable it is.
Let’s use the example of exercise since this applies to many of us. “I want to exercise more,” while a good goal, is not a specific goal. “I want to strength train two times a week, swim once a week and walk for 20 minutes everyday,” is a very specific goal, is measurable and is attainable.
Now that you’ve got your 3 types of exercise listed, or mini-goals, write action steps for how you want to achieve them. You want to strength train two times a week. How can you make it happen? Maybe it’s bringing your gym clothes to work so you can change and go from there. Maybe it’s getting a babysitter for a couple of hours twice a week. Same for swimming. Maybe for the daily walks it’s walking your kids to school everyday or taking a walk during your lunch break at work. Whatever your situation is, choose actions steps that are realistic and attainable for you.
4) Get others involved.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, most people who are successful do so with the help of other people. When you get other people involved in your journey toward change you get accountability (I said it out loud so now I really have to do it!), external motivation, encouragement, positive reinforcement when things are going well and support when they aren’t.
There have been multiple studies indicating that having a good support system in place is one of the predictors of success, so don’t hide out–reach out!
5) Be kind to yourself.
No plan we make is infallible. Sometimes there are personal, family and/or work scenarios that interfere with our goals. That is life. It’s important to stay flexible. Setbacks will happen, but it’s how we handle setbacks that makes the biggest difference. For example, if you’re trying to cut down on unhealthy foods, but you had a donut that someone offered you at work this morning, you don’t have to throw in the towel and make less than optimal choices throughout the rest of the day.
There are ways to get past the contemplation stage of change, but change is also a process. There will be ups and downs. Successes and failures. Don’t beat yourself up if something derails you. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.
Want more guidance in making changes? Sign up for our FREE 21 Day Making Time for Mom Challenge! In this challenge we’ll be tackling how to make you and your workouts a priority and how help the whole family eat healthier without breaking the bank. The Challenge starts on August 5th. You in? Sign up here.
*The transtheoretical model has a sixth stage of change, “termination,” that I’ve purposefully left off of this list. The termination stage of change indicates that a person has 100% belief that they will never be tempted to backslide again, but my personal belief system is that no one is perfect, and therefore, should always strive to be in the maintenance stage. The journey is never over.