by Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
Change. Sometimes it is wanted and actively sought after -New Year’s Resolutions, anyone? Other times, we are not actively seeking change but we find ourselves in a position where we have to make a choice. For example, if your spouse is moving to a new city, I am guessing he/she is pretty cool and you would miss him/her so you chose to move. Regardless of whether or not the change is actively pursued or not, you may find the 6 stages of change, discovered by researchers Carlo C. DiClemente and J.O. Prochaska, a helpful framework.
It was originally used to understand addictions but it can be very helpful to understand other types of change as well. Understanding the stages of change can help you put your feelings into perspective and normalize what you are going through during each stage. Knowing the stages can also help you avoid some of the pitfalls that may come along as you work through change.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed.”-Lao Tzu
This is the stage where change is not on your radar. You aren’t thinking about changing. You may need to lose weight but it’s in the back of your mind. You might not think it’s enough to be concerned with and you probably really don’t think about it. Or, maybe you and your spouse know that you are moving to a new city but you are focused on all the steps you need to take to get there. You are not in your new environment yet so you don’t even know how you may need to change.
“If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.”-Unknown
This is the stage where you know something needs to change but you may not be able to pinpoint what you need to change and you probably don’t really know how you would change. Maybe you saw yourself in a picture and, well, you didn’t realize that you needed to lose that much weight until you saw the picture. How did that sneak up on you? You may start Googling “healthy diet plans” or looking up gyms in your area. You aren’t committed to taking action but you are looking around and doing some research. Or, in the moving scenario, all the boxes are packed and you are on your way. You may be looking at homes in the new city, perhaps you are Googling delicious places to eat or interesting things to see/do once you get there. You may be researching schools for your children and a new job for yourself. You may be looking for groups to join once you get there.
“Progress is impossible without change.”-George Bernard Shaw
This is the stage where you know you need to change and you’ve embraced the reality of the change. You are laying out the framework to help you get from point A to point B. “If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”-Unknown. As this quote indicates, change involves learning. Many times we are pioneering a new strategy and finding what works for us. Another quote states, “If you want to change, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable.”-Unknown. It is uncomfortable to change.
On one hand, we like knowing what to expect but, on the other hand, without change, life can become stagnant. It is a bit of a psychological tug of war where you are standing on a shore that you’ve known your whole life. The ocean is on the other side. During the determination stage, you are willing and ready to change. You are ready to leave the shore behind and embark on your boat into the vast unknown ocean. You have identified that you need to change and you are now certain how you will change. So you jump in the boat and move on to the next stage, action. And yes, “Action Changes Things (ACT).”-Unknown.
“It only takes one person to change your life. You.”-Robin Cosey
This is the stage where you are actively taking steps to change. You have moved from research to implementing your plan. For weight loss, you may have joined a gym, signed up with a personal trainer, and/or joined a weight loss support group. Or, now that you’ve moved, you accept that this really is your new home. It’s time to learn the roads, figure out your schedule, the kids’ schedules and create a life for yourself. Maybe you are considering reinventing yourself now that you are in a new city. Maybe you are going to try some new hobbies or make a complete career change. To Do Lists, planners, and schedules are helpful tools in this stage. This is where the rubber hits the road and action is essential.
Don’t be too surprised when you find yourself fluctuating between contemplation and action. Keeping up the momentum during this stage is not always easy because change can be hard. However, as Jim Rohn states, “Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” Nido Qubien reminds us that, “Change brings opportunity.” So, how do we power through the plateaus? The uncomfortable parts? Keep up our enthusiasm?
All experiences are mirrors that show us another dimension of who we are, a part of ourselves that we may not have seen without this experience. Looking closely at ourselves and finding inner resilience that propels us through this stage can be a huge confidence booster. Accepting our wobbling from contemplation to action and back a couple of times is a beautiful example of self-acceptance and patience.
If you are finding yourself falling into contemplation over and over, unable to move back into the action stage, it may be helpful to uncover your resistance to change. What part of the plan isn’t working for you? Are you forcing yourself to get up at 3 am to workout even though you aren’t a morning person? Are you expecting to find new friends instantly? Do you expect yourself to adjust within 2 weeks to these life changes? Ask yourself these questions and see what is going on internally. Do you have unrealistic expectations of yourself? Are you working against your hard wiring? Once you find the root cause, you can work towards solutions.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”-Socrates
You have your workout routine and you are losing weight. You’ve figured out where they hide Target in your city and you are already feeling better, at least you won’t have to adjust too much to new brands, or a very different store layout. A little bit of the familiar can help you as you tackle bigger issues a little bit at a time. A tweak here. A tweak there. Ah! Finally! This is beginning to feel comfortable. Now it is starting to feel natural. Now you have a system in place and you are enjoying the rewards and benefits of your research, plan, and the change itself.
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous in the end.”-Robin Sharma
This is when the change is fully incorporated into your life. It is no longer an effort to do your workout routine. It comes naturally. You have it scheduled. Now that you’ve been in your new city for at least a year it no longer feels new. It’s starting to feeling familiar. You know where everything is located. You have friends, your kids have friends, you and your spouse have a favorite restaurant. You’ve come a long way and it feels great.
“I am on the hunt for who I’ve not yet become.”-Unknown
So now that you’ve mastered weight loss, what’s next? Will you try something different? If you’ve been going to the gym, maybe you will decide to take up kayaking. Or you’ve been doing Zumba so, why not add some variety and try yoga or pilates? How about rock climbing? The possibilities are endless. Now that you are settled into your new city, maybe you are ready to expand your horizons within the city. Is there a travel club or maybe a wine tasters group? What’s next?
That is the wonderful thing about life. There is always something new. Now that you understand the 6 stages of change, you have the framework and understanding to embrace, not only the obstacles that go hand in hand with change but your feelings and experience during the process. Isn’t this new level of insight about yourself awesome?