Change is never easy. Even when you want to make changes, it is usually a struggle to stay the course. Some people will say, “Just do it”. Well, if it was that simple, then we would all be in the exact place we want to be. There are six stages to change. We can move between these stages quickly or slowly. We can also find ourselves moving forward one day and backward another. If we can understand the stages of change, we can make better choices on our journey.
The first stage of change is pre-contemplation. This is the initial stage and you are not even thinking about making changes. You may think that change is not even possible or even necessary. You may not have the courage to step up and do something. You may even become resentful if someone says something to you about changing. I can remember when I was drinking Diet Coke. People would send me all sorts of articles about how awful it was. I did not want to hear it, so I acted as if I could not hear it. I was not looking for any change.
The second stage is contemplation. This is the period you begin to acknowledge you have an unhealthy relationship with something. Perhaps it is food, alcohol, drugs, or even a bad habit. This is also the time that you begin to weigh the effort it will take to solve your problem against whether it is worth it. Some people find themselves stuck here for weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime. Let’s stay with my Diet Coke addiction. As doctors told me it was unhealthy and would periodically ask me to stop, there was a time or two when I stopped to consider what it would mean to quit.
The third stage is preparation. This is where you finally decide to act. You gather the information you need to make the necessary changes and what is needed to get started. You are emotionally ready or prepared to make lifestyle changes. You begin to set goals. You may even be discussing your plans openly with others. For this example, I think my running is a better example. When I started doing half marathons, I had never even walked down the street, let alone run down it. So, I spent a lot of time researching what to wear, how to train, how to hydrate, and how to set appropriate goals for myself. I know this stage is an easy one to get caught up in. The preparation can be so much fun. But eventually you will need to take action.
Action is the fourth stage. This is the stage in which you are doing something. The changes you are making are happening little by little. It is not easy, but you are determined to change. You will need a great deal of support and understanding from family and friends. With my running, I committed myself to a program and worked hard on achieving my goals. Each time I accomplishment something, no matter how small, I was proud. That proud feeling kept me going.
The fifth stage is maintenance. You have made real lifestyle changes and have been sticking to them. There have been obstacles, but you have been actively working through those obstacles. You learn how to keep yourself challenged and motivated.
The last stage of change is the one that none of us want to be in. Recycling or relapse stage is a natural part of making meaningful lifelong changes. Most of us fail at our first attempts to make lasting changes. Therefore, it should not be surprising that we will relapse and must begin the process again. This should be viewed as a learning opportunity. It is important to determine what has worked and return to it. You also need to determine what did not work for you and look for alternatives. It is okay to let yourself go back to where you are comfortable and begin to work from that point. Regrouping and trying again will also be better than quitting altogether.
Change. Discover. Transform.
Carla Carter, Ed.D., LCPC, CMPC, EMDR Certified