What happens when you overly identify with an identity? When this happens, it makes it challenging for you to embrace change. James Clear said, “When you cling too tightly to an identity, you become brittle. Lose that one thing, and you lose yourself.” Change is hard, especially when who you thought you were is being challenged by external circumstances.
Or even, when something or someone is forcing you to change, and you don’t want to. There are many factors as to why change feels hard and often overwhelming. In some cases, it might not be your fault. What it often comes down to is identifying which stage of change you’re in. If you know this, then you can work through any change in your life.
3 Elements Of Change
Everyone moves through the six stages of change, but most aren’t aware of the three most aware of these elements. Below are some factors to consider for change to be successful.
- Are you ready? There needs to be a readiness to change for change to occur. Often the next question that follows is, do you have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change in your life?
- Have you identified the barriers to change? It’s essential to do an audit of your life to see will there be anything preventing you from a successful change?
- Relapse is a part of change. Many of you are hard on yourselves because you find yourself slipping back into old habits. But, did you know that relapse is a part of the change process? Most people who are in recovering from addiction are prepped for this stage of change. This is a time for you to consider what might be the triggers that will impact you to return to a past behavior?
The 6 Stages Of Change
James Prochaska is a psychologist who developed the Transtheoretical Model Of Behavior Change. This model helps to prepare people to make serious changes in their lives and anticipate any barriers. Having this understanding will help you move through the process of any changes in your life.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
This stage of change is where you’re somewhat or fully aware of change, but you have zero desires to begin taking action towards making a change in your life. Often, it’s outside pressures that are pressuring you to change. When you’re in this change, it’s because you don’t have the full insight into your behaviors, so you find yourself going back and forth to this stage without any real progress. Therefore, some characteristics of change include denial and ignorance that a problem exists.
If you’re in this stage, you feel as if there is nothing that you can do to change. You may have accepted your current stages and have little hope that your life will be different. You’re challenged in this stage to rethink your behavior(s). You’re challenged to reflect on how your actions are impacting yourself and those around you.
Some questions you may ask yourself during this stage are: Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past? How do you recognize that you have a problem? What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem? When you’re in this stage, nothing from the outside can motivate you to change. Everything must come from within.
Stage 2: Contemplation
When you’re in this stage of change, it means that you’ve spent a considerable amount thinking about your behavior and changing your behavior. Most people spend a lot of time in this stage because most aren’t ready to commit to change. You may feel stuck or unsure of how to start the change process. This is when you’re aware of the cost and risks of your behavior(s).
You may experience a tremendous amount of ambivalence and conflicted emotions. This is what I mentioned earlier, overly identifying with an identity, which means you’re fearful about change. You believe that changing means to give something up rather than gain so that you won’t commit.
If you’re in this change, some strategies that you can take is to weigh the pros and cons. You’re challenged here to look at the advantages and disadvantages of remaining the same and the advantages and disadvantages of changing. You may also want to reflect on what some of the barriers might be to change. Because of how complicated this stage can be, most find themselves in this stage for several months, and even several years.
Some questions you may ask yourself during this stage are: Why do you want to change? Is there anything preventing you from changing? What are some things that could help you make this change?
Stage 3: Preparation
Preparation is where the magic begins. When you’re in this stage, you’ve committed to change. This is where you’ve committed to the change process, and you may be researching and searching for resources to begin the process. In this stage, you begin to experiment and take small steps towards change. I usually call these micro ways. What micro ways can you identify to start chipping away at some of the challenges in your life? This is where you might seek out support or professional help.
This is where feedback and collecting data are crucial to note any progress. Most people in this stage will begin experimenting with a detailed plan to keep them on track. This is where you become an explorer or a detective in your life. You may write down your goals here, change your environment, so it motivates you, and find ways to stick to your plan of action. This stage is critical because you begin to expose yourself to the possibilities of what a different life may look like.
Stage 4: Action
So, you’ve planned, and you have a support system in place. Now, it’s time to take regular action towards your challenges. This is when the most commitment is required. A few things may happen during this stage. You may receive negative feedback from those around you. Why? Because if anyone has benefited from you remaining the way you were, then you may experience some resistance from them as you better yourself. However, you may also be surrounded by those who are motivating you and cheering you on.
It is crucial during this time to have an infinite amount of self-compassion and honor progress. There is a chance that some days you won’t be at the top of your game, and that’s okay, one day doesn’t take away all the change you’ve initiated in the last few weeks or months. Take a moment to acknowledge the growth and any small wins that you’ve had thus far.
Reward yourself while you’re taking action. A great way I tell my clients to reward themselves is to create a brag book. We’re quick to notice everything that’s not working, while there is clear evidence from our past that shows the things that are going well. Take a moment, and write down every small (and big) wins you’ve had. And when you’re feeling as if you’re not doing enough, take a look at your brag book, review it and remind yourself how far you’ve come.
Stage 5: Maintenance
When you’re in the maintenance stage, it means that the changed behavior is a reality. That you’ve avoided the past behavior, and you continue to keep the new and current behavior. You feel way more self-assured than in previous stages. But, this can be as challenging as the first stage. There are going to be temptations to derail your progress. You need to recall what has helped you in the past to avoid temptations.
You may feel tempted to over-analyze yourself or spend a lot of time in self-judgment, but part of healthy self-reflection is having self-compassion and understand that minor setbacks happen, and that’s okay. Remember, you can’t shame yourself or anyone into a changed behavior. You also may find yourself recovering a lot quicker than you would have in the past when setbacks do happen. It’s necessary to have a solid coping strategy and rewards to incentivize yourself.
Stage 6: Relapse
Take a deep breath. Relapse is part of the change process. You may feel disappointed, frustrated, and even angry when this happens. You may also feel like a failure, but there is no such thing as failure, just feedback, remember that. This will shake your confidence, but some questions you can ask yourself to move through the process are: What triggered the relapse? What can you do to avoid these triggers in the future?
This is where self-reflection is critical. You’ll need to reassess yourself, your resources, your coping strategies, your plan of action that you created, your support system. Everything needs a second or third look. You’ll also need to create a plan for possible relapses. This is an opportunity for you to gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
Remember, you’ve spent (in some cases) several years being one way, and now you’re asking your brain, your actions, your emotions to change, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself grace, understand that change isn’t measurable, you decide the speed, and you determine the success.
One thought before I end this, some of you may be thinking there is so much to change. I encourage you to prioritize change. Often, I encourage my clients to look at the big domino, which I learned from the book, The Habit. What is the one change that if you tackled it, that would automatically change everything else? That becomes the domino effect.
For example, when I started my weight loss journey and began exercising. I knew that if I exercised that day, I would automatically eat well because I didn’t want to jeopardize the workout I had earlier, the byproduct (considering I’m consistent) of that is either losing weight or maintaining my weight. Do not try to change everything at once. You’re setting yourself for major disappointment if you do. What’s that saying? How do you finish a meal? One bite at a time.
The last thought I have to say about change is that you might be in a partnership where you’re ready to change, but the other person isn’t. Considering if there are no safety risks, the best approach for a situation like this is, is to validate the other person’s fear. The last thing you want to do is confront them or agitate them further.
Change is scary, even for the most well-equipped person. It comes with a lot of layers. Validate the fear, validate the vulnerability, and remember everyone is on a different path. You’re challenged here to focus on yourself, and as you change, there is a possibility that you can model this change for the other person. If not, and it’s detrimental to your overall health, then you’ll have to ask yourself a tough question. Will I stay?
My final thoughts about change are it’s complicated, but nothing is insurmountable. With commitment, resources, a support system, and lots of communication, change can happen. Whatever you do, don’t go at change alone. Continue to have loads of self-compassion and avoid shaming yourself to change (it doesn’t work). Remember to pace yourself, acknowledge your progress, and celebrate every win, no matter how small.
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