“People don’t change until they are ready to.”
Lifestyle improvement is all about change, as we explored in our last post. When it comes to changing our thoughts, beliefs, and our behavior, the big question immediately becomes “How ready are you to change?”. The answer is not a simple yes or no, and extensive theories have arisen around this question.
The most important step for the person looking to improve their lifestyle (or the wellness pro helping them) is to ASK THE QUESTION: “How Ready Am I to Change?”. If we ignore the factor of “readiness” and forge ahead with a “call to action” we may just fall on our faces. The Transtheoretical Model of change (TTM) or “Stages of Change Theory” (best explored in Changing for Good, by James Prochaska, Carlo DiClemente, and James Norcross) dominates the wellness and health promotion field, as well as the addictions field, and for good reason. This model provides vital understanding of some fundamental aspects of change. For an excellent exploration of it in depth check out this great blogpost by Temple Univ. prof. Jonathan Singer: http://socialworkpodcast.blogspot.com/2009/10/prochaska-and-diclementes-stages-of.html
“Theory is extremely useful, because your theory determines what you can see.” Albert Einstein
I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Readiness for Change Theory and heard James Prochaska speak at The National Wellness Conference, I was not impressed. It seemed so simple and obvious that to bother stating it all in an elaborate theory hardly seemed worth the effort. “People don’t change until they are ready to.” Well, duhhhh! Then it hit me. Wait a minute. In healthcare, and all related fields, that’s not what we are saying to our clients and patients. We’re saying “Change now!” and completely ignoring looking at where they are truly at in this process of change.
As I became trained as a professional life coach I realized that the coaching field was ignorant of this theory as well. We were taught to “request action” much too early in the process. Today, competent life coach training schools such as The Institute for Life Coach Training (www.lifecoachtraining.com) and wellness coaching schools such as Real Balance Global Wellness Services (www.realbalance.com) have caught on and have integrated TTM into their curriculum.
“Change is a process, not an event.” James Prochaska
So what does “Readiness For Change” theory mean for the “man (or woman) on the street” who wants to improve their lifestyle? Here’s some basics to keep in mind as you work on change and growth.
1. There are six stages of change and it’s important to give each stage it’s due.
* Pre-contemplation – Haven’t even thought about change, am unaware of any need to change
* Contemplation – Am giving it some thought
* Preparation – Am preparing to change, finding out more information, checking resources and options
* Action – Actually making the change
* Maintenance – maintaining the change
* Termination (or Adoption) – the new behaviors/thoughts are part of me now, I don’t need to constantly “work at it”.
• 2. We can be at a different stage of change for each different behavior. I may, for example, be ready to start improving my activity level and improving my diet, but I’m not ready to quit smoking. Change is not a light switch. We aren’t as a whole person either “ready” or “not ready” to change.
• 3. The change process is often like a spiral staircase. We ascend up from pre-contemplation to contemplation and then to preparation, etc. We also can get discouraged, slip and spiral back down to earlier levels where we have to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, start all over again” (to quote an old song).
• 4. Change is not just about will power and determination. It is a process that takes time to do right. Especially when we are talking about lifestyle behaviors that may have been in place for many years, just getting up a bunch of will power and thinking that we can suddenly change may be a very disappointing route to go. Instead see it as a process and give yourself credit for moving through each stage of change.
• 5. If you’re stuck at one stage, get an ally to help. The “forever-contemplating” or “forever-preparing” person may look like they are working on change, but the truth is they are stuck! Talk about it with people who you know will be supportive of your growth, not negative or pushing their own agenda of how you “should” change. Get a coach!
• 6. To maintain the change keep track of it! Taking action is great, but the key is maintaining it. I’ve had a number of wellness coaching clients tell me “I’m great at losing weight! I just can’t seem to keep it off.” Recording your new behavior, in someway that works for you, is a real secret of successful change. Don’t let it be a subjective estimation, get serious about self-monitoring and you’ll see more results.
• 7. Start where there’s motivation, readiness and likelihood of success. Don’t start climbing mountains by choosing the “Mount Everest” of your life first! Go for the more achievable and attainable goals where you are motivated to change first. Gain confidence and self-efficacy there and then take on the more challenging climbs.
• 8. Nothing succeeds like success! When you’ve achieved real progress in one area of your life, look at how ready you are now to improve your lifestyle in another area. Once you’ve seen success in being more active and eating better, take on getting more sleep or practicing relaxation training, etc. Take yourself through the Stages of Change from wherever you start, on up that spiral staircase.
• 9. No model has it all figured out. Even the much-revered TTM has it’s critics. We don’t always go through these stages of change in a nice neat manner. Sometimes change does happen as what seems like an event! We’ve all seen times when circumstances and motivation peaked and “cold turkey” success was achieved with great pride! So no single model can explain this incredibly complex phenomenon of change.
We’ll continue to explore more about what it takes to improve your lifestyle and succeed at change in future posts. We’ll also explore other areas of wellness and keep it grounded in what can really make a difference in your life.
“I don’t want to hear any philosophy that won’t grow corn.”
Sun Bear, Native American Teacher