Making changes in life: Why is it so hard?
How many times have you considered making a change in your life?
Joe doesn’t really like his job much anymore, but it’s secure, pays well and has good benefits. He wants to do something different, but can’t seem to get started.
Sarah wants to start an exercise program. She knows that being so sedentary is bad for her health, and her doctor has encouraged her to go the gym, but she never seems to get there.
Harold wants to take a yoga class, but he feels stuck in the same old daily rut and hasn’t even taken the first step to find out where he can take a class.
Human beings thrive on habitual behavior. We develop habits early in our life and they persist into our adulthood--both good and bad habits. (Think of how many times a year you remind your kids to make their bed!) On the positive side of the ledger, good habits keep our teeth in good shape, our lives organized, and our cars running. But on the flip side, bad habits can slowly grind us into the ground!
A psychologist, Dr. Prochaska studied how adults make change. He and his colleagues found that in order to modify behavior, individuals cycle through a series of stages: First, they are in the “precontemplation” stage, where they are not actively considering making any change. Then, they may enter the “contemplation” stage, where they actively consider making a change. This, as we all know, can go on for a long time! We consider the pros and cons of starting something new. Finally, when the pros outweigh the cons two to one (that is the tipping point), adults enter the “preparation” stage, where they start to make plans for their new program. When that takes shape, they are ready for the “action” stage. Finally, they must then work on “maintaining” the new behavior. Relapse into old habits can be just around the corner.
How can this help us? It is useful to identify which “stage” you are in as you make your way through the process of starting something new. Frequently, we go back and forth in the contemplation stage for a long time, stacking up pros and cons, like firewood, until the pile of pros is high enough. Jumping into the action stage without sufficient preparation can result in failure. Insufficient attention to maintaining the change can also result in slipping back into your old ways. Recognizing that modifying your behavior requires completing all the steps can help you start something new.
Some important points to consider:
- Take your time contemplating the pros and cons of starting something new. What do you want to do? Why? What will the benefits be of making this change? Won’t there be some negatives too? On a scale of 1-10, how much do you want to make this change? On a scale of 1-10, how much do you believe you can make this change? What are the barriers? What might help you overcome those barriers? An honest appraisal of these issues can help you avoid a false start.
- Make adequate preparation. When is the right time to take action? What resources will you need? Establish an action plan, and review it with a friend. Does it seem realistic? Are you over- or under-reaching? Can someone help you?
- Establish a maintenance plan. Maintaining your change requires a long term perspective. What will you do to help you stay on track, when you bump into old habits rearing their ugly heads?
Have you made a big change recently?