If I don’t start exercising soon, I’ll never get moving.
So I had a friend* who consistently got into romantic relationships that ended after about 3 months.
She had no idea why. At first her mind boggled at her atrocious bad luck.
Then she had a sense that it might have been something to do with her, but to the extent she thought about that, she imagined it was something innate in her that was unable to make anything stick. Not the happiest of thoughts – so she banished it from her mind and kept on doing the same thing with the same results. Nothing changed. Until it did.
There’s a really useful model for understanding the five stages we go through when making a change (developed by Prochaska in the 1970s).
It’s called The Five Stages of Change.
Funny, that. And we know change isn’t a neat “Hello, chaps! Two weeks per stage then onwards, tally ho!” kind of a thing. It’s normal to move up and down along the model and spend all sorts of different amounts of time at each level. AND if you want to move forward, ask yourself what can help to get you ready. Really ready.
1. PRECONTEMPLATION. Go sailing on a river in Egypt. It’s called Denial.
In precontemplation, you don’t know what you don’t know. The possibility of changing doesn’t even enter your universe, or you’re in denial that it has anything to do with you. My friend thought she had very bad luck. A manager blames her team members for bad results – no consideration given to what she might do differently. Someone miserable in his job trudges in every day, wishing the culture at his company was different, without a sense of his own ability to contribute to something better. Someone super unfit might have tried and failed to get moving so often that she’s completely given up. Or she denies that it’s affecting her health at all. At this stage, if you’re thinking about it at all (which you’re probably not), you say things like:
- It’s not my fault, anyway.
- It doesn’t apply to me.
- I’m fine.
- My situation’s different.
- I can’t control anything so why bother?
If you’re reading this with a particular issue in mind, you’re probably not in pre-contemplation on that issue. Needless to say, nothing gets better in precontemplation.
2. CONTEMPLATION. Hmmm, this sucks but I’m keeping it around, dagnabbit.
In contemplation, you’ve started to think about making a change but you’ve got misgivings. You’re afraid of what you might lose and you’re weighing that up against what you think you’ll gain. That cosy sense of certainty you get from staying stuck is something you’re holding on to. And with good reason. Making a change can be, and usually is, pretty emotional. So you go to safety. You notice all the barriers (uncertainty, expense, time, fear, effort). I call them the “yes, buts”. They are the enemy of change. In your clever brain, you can see the benefits of changing, but the “yes, buts” aren’t in your brain. They’re in your guts or heart and they are winning out. Here, you say things like:
- Hmmm, maybe it’s me.
- I know I need to change, but …
- I need to know for sure before I do anything.
- It’s just all too hard.
- I’ll take another look at it later.
3. PREPARATION. Let me make a list.
In preparation, you’ve realised it’s up to you to change. You start to get ready. You collect information and you might make some small changes (my friend reads some books about noticing your patterns, the manager reads a book about management techniques she might use to influence her team, the unhappy worker starts researching other roles in his industry, the unfit person buys a pedometer). These are really experiments that start to build your momentum as your commitment grows.
In preparation, your feelings of optimism and control grow. You say things like:
- What else can I do?
- What other options are there?
- This could actually work.
- Other people do it. I could too.
Preparation is interesting. The ‘yes buts’ are still there. Whether you move into action, get stuck in preparation for ages or move yourself backwards depends on getting your sense of optimism to outweigh, outsmart and outshine the ‘yes buts’.
4. ACTION. I’m on a mission, yeeha!
Action is where the magic happens. You’re doing it and you rock. You’re making a real difference. My friend shifts her filters for who is dateable and starts a relationship with – shock – a lovely guy. The manager starts meeting with her team members to build the relationships and ask for their feedback on how to help things. The unhappy worker talks with his manager about re-arranging his role so it includes more of what he loves and less of what he doesn’t. The non-exerciser gets out of bed and out for a walk 3 days a week. You see results – and so do other people. And that feels AWESOME.
5. MAINTENANCE (AND DEALING WITH RELAPSE). What? This rockin’ life? It’s nuthin’.
Maintenance means making it real. Swapping the “new and exciting” for “this is just what I do and who I am”. It’s pretty normal for people to spend a bit of time in Maintenance and then cycle through various other parts of the process for a while before they lock it in for good. That happens when you start to see the inevitable slip up (hitting snooze and skipping the workout) as just that – a temporary slip up – and not a sign the whole project’s failed or is just too hard. It becomes part of your hard-wiring and living in this new way becomes effortless.
And THAT is brilliant.
So, which stage do you think you’re in? And what helps you progress? In my next post, I’ll look at some strategies that can help you move yourself through the stages.
*OK, it was me. And yep, we’re happy as can be 🙂
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