Change is something that is very difficult for most people to accomplish, and the reasons are as varied as the individual. Most of what hinders us are emotional hang ups we haven’t yet worked through or released, and these issues can be deeply seeded and can have come from as far back as our own conception. Our ability to reach a point where we are ready to make change will depend on factors such as our personality type, or reasons for wanting change (motivation), and our support systems.
From a personal stand point, I happen to love change. I embrace it. I’m constantly assessing all areas of my life and scouting for space where change can be made. I work hard to move forward in life and the thing that matters most to me is being a better version of myself today than I was yesterday. There are aspects to this that aren’t necessarily a good thing. For one, I’m a stereo typical type A personality. I crave and strive for perfection, all the while knowing that perfection without flaws does not exist. As with all personality types it is easy to fall out of balance. Our strengths can easily become weaknesses when we don’t walk the line in between the two. For example, a person who is very laid back, friendly and easy to be around can also be complacent and flakey. Or a person such as myself can fall out of balance by allowing the drive to succeed to become overwhelming and can easily burn out or neglect the things in life that truly matter.
But you came here in hopes of finding some answers as to how you can move forward, so let’s see what progress we can make today.
There are 3 main change motivators; crisis, osmosis, and vision. I’ll quickly go over what encompasses each of these.
Change by Crisis
There are obvious crisis that would inspire change in a person, such as being diagnosed with diabetes or having a heart attack, or seeing a family member suffer from disease. But “crisis” for the purpose of motivation can be anything that strikes a person. It could be a moment of clarity, something said by someone that makes a profound impact, seeing a photo of yourself and realizing how far you’ve let yourself go. Change by crisis happens when we are inspired by a traumatic event or profound moment or realization.
Change by Osmosis
Osmosis is a gradual process. Readiness to change that happens in this way can take any length of time and come from both internal and external forces. It may be that you are working through emotional issues, or even just maturing with age, that brings you to a point of being motivated to embrace change. Or it may be your environment. For example, maybe a close family member or friend has begun to make changes in their lives, maybe your employer starts offering free or discounted gym memberships and many of your coworkers begin working out together regularly, maybe you draw and build inspiration from a transformational TV show you watch regularly.
Change by Vision
We can equate change by vision to having a goal in mind. Change by vision happens when we have created in our mind the specific place we would like to get to. This is really where the magic happens, but we need to be aware that impulse control and acceptance of delayed gratification will be present in the small choices we make every day as we journey toward our vision.
For most of us all or several of these motivators may be a part of our change process at one point or another. There are 5 basic stages that we go through as we reach a level of full readiness for change.
Stage #1: Pre-Contemplation
In this stage we are not even considering making change. It may be that we don’t believe we have a need to make change in our lives, or it may be that we just aren’t interested. Maybe we are comfortable where we are on some level, we are enjoying the payoff we get from staying complacent, and we just aren’t willing to move beyond that at this point. We may also sincerely believe that we “can’t” change. Change is impossible for us. Maybe we’ve tried and failed in the past, maybe multiple times, and it just doesn’t seem worth the risk of suffering the pain of “failure” to try again. As a coach, there are several things that are very important for a client in this stage, and the great thing about it is that if you are in this stage you can make great progress by practicing giving yourself these things. In fact, it will likely build the foundation for all of the change you will make in your life, just as from a coaching perspective it builds the foundation of the coach-client relationship. A person who is pre-contemplative is there for a reason. This is not a “lazy” person. I do not believe that laziness exists. What society tends to label as laziness, in reality, can be several things. It might be lack of energy, which can be due to emotional or nutritional factors. It might be deep emotional pain, which holds us back and often strips us of confidence to believe that we CAN effect change and the self-esteem to believe that we are worth the risk and effort. It may be that past experiences have deterred us from wanting to try again. It may be that habitual negative self-talk is crippling us. It may be that we are so focused on all that stands in our way that we are literally creating walls around ourselves. Whatever it is, the most important thing is to have empathy for yourself. You are not flawed or inadequate. You are not “lazy” or whatever label you or others have placed on you. It is imperative that you accept yourself exactly as you are. If you never move forward, that is OKAY. There are REASONS that you are where you are, and those reasons are real and powerful. Respect the place you are in and work to understand why you are there. We all crave understanding and one of the best things we can do is to seek to understand ourselves. Whatever feelings you have must be acknowledged, accepted and un-judged. No matter how we feel, there is no fault in it. Our feelings tell us a lot about what matters most to us, and it is there that we find our motivation. So in this stage, we focus internally. We learn to love and accept ourselves as we are. We seek to understand, and we learn to stop passing judgment and become increasingly honest and open with ourselves.
Stage #2: Contemplation
This is the stage where we begin to consider making changes. We don’t have any specific goals yet, but we begin to have ideas about what we would like to change and how and when we might do it. We begin contemplating change when we become aware of areas in our life that we are dissatisfied with, or when we start to consider the possibility of succeeding in our efforts to change. This is the place where light begins to enter in. We can feel ourselves slowly coming to life. We may remain in this stage for a very long time. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for people to become what is referred to as “chronic contemplators.” People who think and talk about making change frequently, but who never take steps to effect those changes. It may be that they don’t know what to do to move forward, or they may still have deeply seeded fears of failure. It may also be that they are still weighing the benefits of change over the effort that change requires. Once again, we do not judge these things. Wherever we are in the process is just where we are meant to be. This is a good time for you to identify your values. When we are fully aware of what truly matters to us we can decide if we would like to stay where we are at or begin to move forward. The most effective way that I have found to do this is to take the time to close your eyes, relax, and imagine yourself at the end of your life. Perhaps imagine you are telling your life story to your grandchildren or writing it in a book that will be read by many generations to come. What might that story sound like if you stay where you are currently at and continue on as you are? Now, imagine what your life story would sound like if it were exactly the story you would want to tell. Whatever it is that you would want to tell about the life you have lived, there are your values. Begin to contemplate ways you might alter your life so that you are living true to these values. This might also be a good time to learn about the consequences of some of your choices. For example, how the foods you are currently eating might affect you and what kind of suffering you may experience as a result. Denial is common and does not serve anyone well. We are subject to natural consequence even if we look the other way. Here again, it is imperative not to judge but to view your current behaviors as just what they are: choices that you make. You have the power to make choices that either hurt or serve you and when we make choices that are hurtful it is an opportunity to explore WHY we are making those choices. If we do not become aware of our choices and the reasons we make them, we cannot effect change in our lives. If you feel ready, this can be a great time to begin experimenting with setting small, achievable goals. It could something like reading a book, or stopping before you eat to ask yourself if you are truly hungry or not, and if not, ask yourself why you are reaching for food (stopping yourself from eating the food is not necessary at this time unless you are feeling up to it). It could be that you make a goal to organize one small area of your home each Saturday, or decide that you will commit to attending one social activity per month. Whatever you do, set goals that you are likely to achieve. This will help to grow your confidence in your power to effect change.
Stage #3: Preparation
Let’s DO this. Here you are ready to make change immediately. Your motivation to change has overridden any hang ups you may have had in the past. You are now aware of the barriers and obstacles that have kept you from success in the past and you have some ideas about how you might navigate those challenges as you move forward. Preparation stage is marked by our willingness and ability to explore solutions. This is the time to formulate a clear and specific vision of where we want to go, and develop a plan for how we intend to get there. It is also a time to make a solid commitment to ourselves that we are going to put in the effort to see this plan through. You might find journaling helpful, discussing your ideas with a close friend, or even just brainstorming on a piece of paper. As with any stage, do not allow yourself to be motivated by external factors or other people. Throw the world “should” out of your vocabulary completely. This is about you. This is not about what someone else wants for you or about pleasing other people. You are the only person living your life, and you will not have a chance to live it over. So make these choices based on honesty and authenticity. Be aware that even though you have brainstormed strategies for avoiding pitfalls, pitfalls happen. They are part of the process. Avoid seeing them as failures. In fact, they are there to serve you and propel you forward. Each time we are set back we are awarded a priceless opportunity to reevaluate, re-strategize, and try again. All great successes in life are preceded by many failures. Failure is not an end, it is an opportunity for learning and gaining of strength. Your success is hinged on your attitude toward setbacks. For that reason it is very important to plan for how you will react to such situations. It can be very painful to confront ourselves and very tempting to view ourselves negatively. Don’t fall for it. There are enough enemies available in the world, you don’t need to be one to yourself. If you aren’t going to be kind to yourself, who is?
Phase #4: Action
The action phase is the phase marked by doing. The blueprint has been carefully mapped out, the foundation has been set, and now we begin the building process. This is the perfect time to establish relationships with people who share your goals and values. Support is an essential part of this phase. Remember to keep your goals and action broken down into small, achievable steps. Change happens one small choice and one small action at a time. We are at a greater risk of lapse and re-lapse during this phase, so we need to be mindful not to set ourselves up for a fall. Continue to work through setbacks by asking yourself what you can do differently the next time you are faced with a similar situation. Discuss these things with people in the support network you are building. Continue to love and accept yourself and your place in this journey, and ENJOY the adventure. Finding joy in the journey is such a great thing, this isn’t all about getting to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is about embracing and celebrating the profound internal transformation that is the reason for our human experience. We will never be perfect. We will never be exactly the way we would like to be. There will always be another goal to reach for, another area to work on… and this is GOOD. Remember, you are exactly where you are intended to be at any and every moment in your life.
Phase #5: Maintenance
In the action phase we are doing, in the maintenance phase we might say we are “still doing.” The difference is that at this point we have made the change a habit, or a part of our lifestyle. It is no longer quite the effort it once was, though we may still go through times of falter and will still need to examine ourselves from time to time to be sure we aren’t slipping backward into previous phases. In maintenance phase we are fairly, if not completely, confident in our ability to maintain our new behavior. Reaching this point makes all other changes we wish to make that much easier, because we have proven to ourselves that we are capable of doing great things. We realize now that we have, and have always had, the power to determine our own life course. We are still at risk of lapse or re-lapse. Often this will happen because we become bored or because we lose touch with the reason we made change to begin with. It is vital to never forget what your initial motivators were. For myself, when I began my journey to lose weight and gain health I not only took “before” photos, but I also make a detailed list of the physical afflictions I was suffering from. In fact, I have made multiples lists, and continue to. I look back on these lists from time to time, especially when I’m feeling discouraged, and I can see the payoff I have gotten from my efforts. These lists have gone from several pages in length to several lines. Journaling can also be useful for this reason. We all too often forget our pain once we have healed… which can be a great thing… but we do need to remember where we came from and why. You will find in maintenance phase that you are able to get yourself back on track more quickly and easily and you get better and better at noticing when you are falling off course. This relates not only to your initial goal, but to all goals set hereafter. You are now aware of your strengths and weaknesses and can foresee situations that might have the potential to slip you up and you are willing and able to strategize how you will navigate those situations. Seek out mentors and role models, people you admire who have achieved great successes. Now is also a great time to step up and share what you have learned with others, to become a role model to them. Sharing knowledge is invaluable, it is a universal law that the teacher always learns more than the student, so this can be a great way to stay motivated and keep yourself moving ever forward.
You will repeat these phases over and over throughout your life as you continue to identify areas that are calling for improvement. You may be working on several different goals and be in several different stages at the same time. Life is an endless state of metamorphosis… and it is wonderful. YOU are a wonderful creation to whom the power to create has been gifted. Creating change is not about willpower or strength or special ability, it is about the process of accepting and practicing self-love. Love is not something we find or something we have or create, it is something we DO and something we ARE. Love is a state of being. The best news is you don’t have to be perfect to start. You don’t have to be in a great place. You don’t even have to be “ready”. As I’ve pointed out above, there are actions you can take within every phase of readiness that will move you forward toward the next phase. Be honest with yourself, be forgiving. Start where you are at. You cannot jump forward and change does not happen quickly or without effort. Do what you can do right where you are at, being just who you are, in this very moment… and know that whoever that is, is wonderful, and beautiful and perfectly flawed… which is the only perfection.
((Cross posted from my blog at InnateWellnessCoaching.com))