Understanding Change – and Why Is It So Difficult to Change
A quarter of 2015 has already past.
I’m wondering if this year you did any New Year's Resolutions that implied a big change in your life.
The reality is that for most people, even if they honestly intended to change some important aspect of their lives – from exercising more, losing weight, and so forth – probably, by now, they have gone back to their old habits.
If what you want to change is really important to you, please don’t give up or wait until next year to try again.
Start to understand:
Why It's So Difficult To Change
Maybe understanding how the change process works, can help you to achieve your goals.
If you think:
“I don’t have enough will power.”
“I’m never going to be able to do it.”
“I tried it before and it didn’t work.”
And any other excuses that your internal saboteur creates…
(Yes, you are not alone, everybody has a personal critical voice that tries to undermine their self-esteem, but that is a theme for another podcast.)
Keep reading and see what we can learn from how psychologists explain the change process.
First – it’s important to notice that psychology sees change as a process, not as an isolated event.
Second – the change process is complex enough to have many models to explain it.
Lets focus on a particular model of change as an example.
Model of Change
This Model of Change was developed by a team of psychologists in the 1990s (Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente)***.
It emerged from the studies of successful self-changers, that is, people who successfully changed important behaviors in their lives without professional help (for instance, to stop smoking).
According to this model, if someone wants to change a habit or behavior, they will go through a 6-Stage Process***.
Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation
If we are at this stage, we don't see any need to change.
Our friends and family can think otherwise, but we don’t agree with them.
Imagine, that we usually spent more than 8 hour seated during our day. Our friend, a fitness expert, has warned us about the dangers of a sedentary life, but we rationalize.
“I go to the health club a couple of times a week.”
“I try to eat healthy.”
“I’m not overweight.”
[…or whatever excuse we use to justify that we are fine, and we really don’t need to change.]
Stage 2: Contemplation
As the name suggests, we start to realize that there is something that we are better off changing.
Yet, we don’t know how, or we don’t feel quite ready to do it.
For instance, in our example of spending more than 8 hour seated.
We are still using the same excuses, but now we feel guilty because we know better.
We start to believe that our friend – the fitness expert – is right.
Maybe we read an article that supports her views, or maybe our last blood work shows some levels that could improve.
We know that we should do something to become more active, but it’s easier to create another good excuse.
“It’s not the right time.”
“After this project is done, I will have more time.”
“I really don’t know how to go about changing this.”
We can spend lots of time in this stage, spinning our wheels without going anywhere.
Stage 3: Preparation
Eventually, we can move to the preparation stage, where we really start to devise a plan with concrete action steps and implementation dates.
“OK, I’m going to implement what I read in this article. I’m going to set a timer for 60 mn. When it sounds, I will go for a walk around the house.”
Then, if we don’t take a step backwards and start to doubt our own plans – “Really, I walk around the house. I should be running. Walking around the house, what difference that makes?” – we move on to the action stage.
Stage 4: Action
We do it. When the clock sounds, we get up and walk around the house.
We start to modify our behavior.
This stage has all the glory, but could not happen without the previous stages.
And, if we stop with the new practice, we stop the action stage, and we can easily revert into blaming, and fall into the guilt game.
Soon enough, you will be at least 2 steps backwards, back to the contemplation or worse – denying the need to change and arguing that “I already did that, but it didn’t work.”
So we have to keep taking baby steps in order to move to the next stage.
Stage 5: Maintenance
To sustain a new habit or change in our life, we have to go through a maintenance stage where we begin to consolidate the new habits, behaviors, and patterns.
Only if we persist, keep going, and not give up when we take a step backward, we will reach a plateau where these new habits and behaviors become automatic and second nature to us.
This is the last stage of the change process and a new starting point to continue learning, evolving, and changing.
Stage 6: Recycling – Learning from Relapse
This is not a linear process where you go from stage 1, to 2, then 3, then 4, and 5.
The best image to describe the change process is an ascending spiral.
There are ups and downs, steps backwards and forwards.
Keep going, and learn from the relapses.
TIP: Get a good support team and this process becomes easier and even fun.
This process of change applies to bad habits like smoking, and also to social accepted habits such as overworking (so easy to rationalize).
We can apply these principles to mindsets too.
We can see mindsets as habits.
Mindsets are habits of mind formed by previous experience.
Think about how to apply this process to change our fixed mindsets.
That can open the door to many possibilities.
***Note and Correction: The Model of Change as described by Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente has 6 stages. The 6th stage, not described in the audio of this podcast episode, is Recycling – Learning from Relapse. I will probably do a future podcast about this topic.