Change: such a small word for such an enormous concept. If you are reading this blog or are entertaining the idea of therapy it is likely that you have been seriously contemplating this word lately. Change: how does it happen and how do we get there? While what we want to change and the paths we take to arrive at the decision to change may be very different, the steps we take toward the ultimate destination are very similar.
Imagine you are currently standing at point A. This point A worked for you for a while but you are begining to notice standing at this point doesn’t feel so great anymore. You are now noticing that point B up ahead appears to be a much better place to stand, so you decide to move. You attempt to bridge the distance from point A to point B with one large, stretching step. You thought this would be relatively simple until you see that the distance between A to B is a quarter mile. How can you stretch your legs a quarter mile? You would likely come to the rational conclusion that this is an impossible feat. Once you reached this conclusion of impossibility, it would make sense to give up and remain where you are, after all, why attempt the impossible? Change: too large, too much, not possible. That is, until we recognize that the quarter mile journey does not need to be done in one step, in fact, it is perfectly acceptable, and even expected to be done in several steps over a longer period of time.
When changing any type of behavior, habit, or life circumstance all of us will find ourselves navigating our way through the six stages (or steps) of change. Clearly defining and understanding these stages can greatly assist our difficult journey from where we are to where we want to be. Knowing these stages makes the seemingly impossible very achievable, and easily within our reach, one step at a time! So what are these six steps and how do you take them? Here we go, let’s walk…
- Precontemplation: In this stage you are not thinking anything needs to change. You are in denial! Others may have brought up to you that perhaps a way of relating or a habit you have isn’t working, but you aren’t ready to hear it, so you brush them off. Hang out here for a while, it’s okay. Maybe your feet hurt and walking sounds far too excruciating. Eventually you’ll move. I know this because you are reading a therapist’s blog…just by this simple action; you are placing yourself in the next stage.
- Contemplation: In this stage you are willing to consider that perhaps, maybe, quite possibly, something needs to change…a little bit. While you are willing to begin to consider change, you are not willing to actually do anything behaviorally about it. You have psychologically moved and have become more open to new possibilities, a huge accomplishment you should feel proud of! Go ahead revel in it and relax here, you deserve it. Once you are ready to put this consideration into motion through actions, it is time to take another step.
- Preparation: You’ve made it here. You are now ready to do smaller things to prepare yourself for the larger change! In this stage you are making smaller changes and taking actions in order to get ready for the big one. The desired change has not occurred yet, but you are packing your bags with everything you need for your journey. Okay, grab your bag, it’s time to go.
- Action: You have arrived. You have made the change and you aren’t afraid to show it! In this stage you are now accepting responsibility for your own life and have achieved the very thing that seemed so hard. Where you are is where you wanted to be. Congratulations. Now it’s time to make sure you stay there.
- Maintenance: In this stage you are keeping up the behaviors, thoughts, and actions that are necessary to keep the change going. You are on the other side, the grass is definitely greener, but you need to water it to keep it that way.
- Relapse: This is what I like to call the “Oh no!” stage. You walked the quarter mile step-by-step. It took you sometime, but you got there and now you find yourself slipping into old ways of behaving and thinking. You are finding yourself wondering, “What was the point? I worked so hard, walked so far and now I am right back to where I started!” Relax, relapse is expected in anything we are changing. It’s part of the process. When we don’t expect relapse we tend to jump right back up into precontemplation. If you find yourself here, remember, change takes work and some of that work is recognizing when we are slipping and doing something about it. You don’t have to go back to the beginning. Why would you? You came so far. Maybe go hang out in preparation again, pack some more things in your suit case. Now that you’ve done the journey once, you likely will have a better grasp on what items to pack.
Now that you know the six stages of change, you are ready to plan your journey and you are prepared. How quickly you walk these stages largely depends on you and what it is you are trying to change. Some change happens quickly and these steps are taken rapidly. Others take time and you might find yourself navigating these steps over the course of a year or two or three. Wherever you are and however long it takes, don’t forget to celebrate the accomplishment of reaching a new step, it makes the journey far more enjoyable!