Many of us would like to change something in our lives.
But change is hard, and most New Year’s Resolutions are a testament to that.
CHANGE IS LIKE AN ONION
Sometimes we think that changing something will be easy, and many people are doing a lot to convince us about that. All you need is their product: a book, an app, a course, a magic bullet of sorts.
I’m not saying a book or a course won’t help. It might! But real behavioral change runs much deeper than that.
*You may want to think about change as an onion -it’s got many layers, and it can make you cry *
When I speak of change, what do I mean? For me, change usually boils down to changing our habits (also habitual thinking) and our routines.
Changing for good means habitually (effortlessly) doing something or not doing something (that usually means doing something else instead of the desired action).
INTENTIONS, GOALS, PLANS, and… RELAPSE.
You can set goals or intentions, you can outline a plan and milestones, and it all helps, but it is not enough to make you change.
As the saying goes: you may lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Because to change means to do something (usually continuously), not just think about doing it. BUT just thinking about it is also a valid and necessary stage of change ☺️ So that should be good news!
THE TRANSTHEORETICAL MODEL OF BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE
To dig a bit deeper into how people change, let’s take a look at the transtheoretical model of behavioral change created by James Prochaska.
The model assumes that behavioral change does not occur as a single event and in a linear way but instead happens as a series of stages, gradually, over a more extended period of time.
The model identifies five main stages of change and a tiny bonus stage:
and a special bonus stage, RELAPSE (this can occur after any of the 5 stages)
START WHERE YOU (REALLY) ARE
Let’s now translate these stages of change into some possible scenarios related to behavioral change:
- you don’t really think you need to change. You’re happy with where you’re at, although others may disagree (your partner, your boss, your mom) (PRE-CONTEMPLATION)
- you think that maybe changing something would be a good idea, but you’re not entirely convinced yet. You start to play with the idea of possibly changing something, however, without a clear intention of doing it. (CONTEMPLATION)
- you decide change would be good and decide to do something about it: get a gym membership, get new trainers, start a new diet, sign up for a language course, etc. (PREPARATION)
- you started a new habit/routine, and you’ve been doing it for some time now. It’s becoming second nature to you. You no longer resist doing it. (MAINTENANCE)
The fun part? You can get stuck at any of these stages and not move to the next one. Even better? You can relapse at any of these stages and go back to where you were.
And all of that may work, for some time, until it doesn’t.
It all goes so well for a bit; you are ready to congratulate yourself only to fall back into your old, bad habits and routines. Later you may (or not) stop and wonder what went wrong and why you fell off the wagon.
I WOULD CHANGE, BUT I CAN’T.
If you fail to change something enough times, you may decide that you simply cannot change, that it’s simply impossible for you to achieve. So you give up, move on.
Sometimes, you may wonder, how come some people can change but you cannot.
Most of us like to blame it on lacking willpower or discipline and leave it there. But is this really the reason? Yes and no.
You need some willpower, discipline, and commitment to change, but it’s important to be more strategic about approaching habit change than simply plowing through!
But don’t worry, I’m not planning to leave you just here!
In the next post, I’ll explain the different stages of change further, along with some tips on how to make it to the next stage and how to minimize the risk of a relapse.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
- It’s important to note that a linear progression through the stages is not the norm. Sometimes we may perceive it as a circle, but it’s more of a spiral -you just need to adjust your perspective. So, basically, every time you start a new diet or studying Spanish, you are not entirely ‚back to square one’ (‚false beginner’)
- Individuals tend to move back and forth through the stages, often relapsing until the change becomes fully established.
- Understanding each stage of change can help us prepare better and shape our actions in the future.
- You may wonder why some strategies (books, courses, etc.) work for one person and not for another? Well, we all start in different places (different stages).
That’s why it is so important to know where you are, what stage you’re at, so you can start there and make progress. If you skip steps, you’re in for a quick relapse.
I guess this answers the question: WHY IS CHANGE SO DAMN HARD.
Stay tuned to find out how to approach change in a smarter way. Because, seriously, there are better ways than continuously banging your head against the wall.