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Why Changing for the Better Isn’t as Difficult as It Seems

Why Changing for the Better Isn’t as Difficult as It Seems

Hope is not a strategy when it comes to change. Commitment is what is needed to make change happen. Not just a wishy, washy commitment to change that fades in a week. Real change needs real commitment. Dismissing your excuses and “buts” and exchanging them for commitment to the process of change is what is needed to make change happen.

The good news is that your personality and behaviors can be changed, but it is up to you. You can’t change anyone else, but you can change yourself. Below are the steps needed to create change in your life. Its up to you to make that change happen, nobody can do it for you, but you can certainly find help along the way.  

Awareness for the Need to Change

You can’t go on blaming your problems and issues on other people or circumstances. Eventually you need to take the bull by the horns, own up to your short comings, and get on a path to change. The first step toward change is acknowledging that you have something you need to change. If you don’t think there is something about you that needs to be changed or improved, then you are in denial, because there are not any perfect people in this world.

Look at the repeated problems in your life. The issues that seem to come up time and time again. Do you keep gravitating toward the wrong relationships, but you blame the people you are choosing, rather than looking at your problem in the selection process? Do you jump from one job to another, yet blame co-workers and bosses, rather than look at what you may be doing to cause problems and dissatisfaction on the job? We are creatures of habit, so look at the patterns that you have in life that are negative. The ones that keep coming up and causing problems. Then look introspectively to see what it is in you that is causing these repeated life problems to occur. If you can’t figure it out on your own, then go to a counselor for better understanding. If you can indeed figure out what it is in you that needs to be changed, even better. Once you recognize the need for change and what it is that needs to be changed, then you can move to the next step.

Believe that Change is Indeed Possible

There are people out there who believe that personality is unchangeable. When confronted with their problem such as constant negativity they lash back with “that’s just who I am”. It may be who you are, but does it need to be? Change in personality and behaviors is possible. Nobody stays the same from one year to the next, let alone across a decade, so why not move change in the direction that is best for you and not just let it happen.  Be proactive about the change you want in your life, including the belief that change can occur.

If you don’t firmly believe that change is possible, then you are doomed to fail. You must believe that change can happen. Look for success stories and people who have changed and done what you so deeply desire to do. Seeing that others have been where you have are, and have accomplished the change you desire will help you in your process to accomplish that change.

List the Benefits in your Life and the Lives of Others for this Change

In order for change to be meaningful you need to buy into the premise that the change is necessary for your betterment. If you quit drinking alcohol, but deep down still crave alcohol every day for the rest of your life has change really happened? The change needs to happen in your mind and for you to fully desire the benefit of that change in order for your change to be meaningful and long lasting. People who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

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    One of the best ways to help yourself stick to the commitment of change is to make a list of the benefits that the change will bring in your life. Make one list of the benefits in your life if and when this change happens. Make another list of the benefits that your loved ones will have if you make the change. Recognizing the full spectrum of benefits including how your change will affect those closest to you, will help you stick with the process of change.

    When you have moments of weakness, or fail on a particular day or time then getting back on track becomes easier when you review your list on a regular basis. Posting your “benefits of change” list somewhere where you see it often, such as a bathroom mirror, will help you be reminded of why you are doing what you are doing.

    Make a Real Commitment to Change

    Commitment means time and energy.

    If you think you can change by wishing and hoping then you will certainly fail. Be realistic when you dedicate yourself to change.

    If you think you are going to lose 50 lbs. in a month then you are setting yourself up to fail. Make a commitment to the time frame needed for the change to happen. If you want to lose 50 lbs., then set out a realistic plan of a few lbs. per week and a timeline that reflects those goals.

    It will take you a lot longer than a month, but setting realistic goals will help you stick to your commitment. Change happens one day at a time. It is not immediate, but over the course of time because of your dedication and commitment to the process.

    When you are making the commitment to change, this is the time that you dispel of your excuses.

    If you have had “buts” and “what ifs” in the past holding you back it is time to address those head on and not allow them to prevent you from pursing change. The “buts” are usually the biggest obstacle toward commitment. When times get tough your “but” thinking comes into play. Be prepared to knock down those “buts” and be more committed to the process of change and the end result desired, than to the “buts”.

    Be SMART.

    There is a “SMART” plan when it comes to setting and achieving goals and sticking to your commitment to change. Make your goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

    An example of this would be a person who wants to become an active runner so they can tackle a half marathon. The first step would be to research what other people have done for training plans to achieve this goal.

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    Runners World lays out specifics for a beginner to train for a half marathon: “Target the Long Run: Every other week, increase your long run by 1.5 miles until you’re run/walking 13 to 14 miles. On alternate weeks, keep your long run to no longer than three miles. Your longest long run should fall two weeks before your half-marathon. Plan to take about 15 weeks to prepare for the big day.”[1]

    Taking on this SMART tool, lets break it down:

    • S-(Specific). Run every week, make a chart of the miles, according to the Runners World recommendations.
    • M- (Measurable). Make the chart specific for the distance you want to accomplish for each run, which makes your goals measurable. Lets start by writing down at least your first two weeks of running goals to get started. Your first week could entail four days a week of running doing 1.5 miles the first run, 1.5 miles the second, 2.0 the second, and 2.5 the third. Then you move to week two and increase to the 3.0 mile mark. You again set your week up by scheduling four runs into your calander. The first day you do 3.0 miles, the second 3.0 miles, the third day 4.0 miles, and the fourth 4.5 miles.
    • A-(Attainable). You may concerned about weather getting in the way of you getting all your runs in each week, so you then need to find an indoor track, get a treadmill, or sign up for a gym to use their treadmills.
    • R-(Relevant). You aren’t concerned about your work out schedule outside of the running. Your goal is to get to half marathon preparedness, so attending workout classes won’t be on your chart. You stick to charting the runs and dedicating your free time to that goal, not other fitness or diet goals that may impede on your energy level and ability to get your runs completed each week.
    • T-(Time Bound). You are setting your plan to 15 weeks, based on the Runners World recommendations. You then find a half marathon that is very near in date to your 15 week completion and sign up. You chart your weekly runs (four per week), increasing your mileage each week by 1.5 miles until you can achieve 13/14 miles.

    Create a Plan of Attack

    A goal without a plan is a plan to fail.

    You need a set of steps outlined to succeed. This is why 12 step programs are so successful. You can’t just walk into a meeting and say I am cured and changed! You need to mentally process the change in order for the change to be lasting and effective. Create a plan for your change. Be realistic and investigate what other people have done to change. For example, if you are dealing with anxiety and want to change that, then seek out therapy methods to address your problem. Stick with the therapy plan until your change process is complete. Simply hoping the anxiety will someday go away is not a plan.

    Research the best ways that change for your issue successfully happen. Investigate what others have done and been truly successful in making it to the other side of permanent change. Use their best practices to set your own plan of attack in addressing your process of change.

    Commitment without action results in failure.

    It is wonderful to set a goal for change and to write it down, but if you don’t act then your mental commitment means nothing. There is no actual commitment unless action follows. To best kick start our change the key is to act NOW. Not next week. Not waiting for a time when things are lined up just right, because that time may never come. Start today, as soon as you finish setting your goal for change. Tony Robbins is a self-help guru who explains why many people fail to change:[2]

    A lot of people tend to make “sorta kinda” decisions. Here’s the secret behind why people don’t follow through: The reason people don’t commit to a decision is that they don’t act on it.

    Acting now, is the way to show your commitment. Your body must follow the brain’s commitment. For example, if you committed to lose 50lbs then now is the time to go join a gym, hire a trainer, and walk into a weight loss clinic to get support. The important part is doing. We can make up our mind to be determined to change, but if action does not follow soon thereafter, then you will fail.

    It is very easy to make a verbal commitment to change or to even write it down. Where the rubber meets the road is when action is taken. Take action once a decision for change is made. Because if you wait until later that day you will get caught up in doing your daily routine, things for works, taking care of others, or whatever it may be; there will be distractions that will derail you from taking action later. There is no better time to take action than when you make the decision to change. Find one way that you can take action to get the ball rolling. Momentum is essential.

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    For example, if you decide you want to finally write that book that is in your mind, but you don’t have a working laptop, then go and get a laptop today. Then that same day set aside an hour each day after work (and on your calander) so that you can write. Instead of going out with friends after work, you are committing to achieve this goal and you have time set aside to make that goal happen.

    If you want to become a writer, it won’t happen unless you actually write. Waiting until Black Friday for the best computer deal and then perhaps signing up for a writers conference 6 months down the road is not immediate action. Find ways that you can take action today. If you find yourself selecting action items that are in the future, then you really aren’t committed. Real commitment is making a decision for change and then taking immediate action.

    Find a Support System

    Psychology Today explains that one of the best ways to change behavior is through therapy and particularly the use of behavior modification therapies.[3] If you have a particular behavior or habit that you want to change, increase your odds of success dramatically by partnering with a therapist who specializes in treating your issue or who specializes in behavior modification methods.

    A great way to find support is through group therapy or support groups.

    If you have a substance abuse issue you can find groups that specialize is supporting you through recovery and change.  If you prefer to find support in the comfort of your own home, then you can look for online support forums and Facebook groups that deal with whatever change you are looking to pursue. There is support online for every disorder, bad habit, or desired change via the internet.

    Your ability to be successful in change is dependent on your ability to dive in; support systems help you to initially dive in and will help you stay committed to the process. Don’t underestimate the power you have by partnering with others who are seeking the same change. Whether it is weight loss, kicking an addiction, or changing part of your personality, partnering with others committed to that change will increase your odd of succeeding. There is power in numbers, so give yourself a better chance at change by finding and utilizing a supportive group.

    Get Uncomfortable

    Change should be uncomfortable. You are entering into new territory. Your mind and past habits will be resistant to the change, as it is uncomfortable and difficult. Expect the difficulties. Expect things to be uncomfortable. Also expect yourself to be so committed that you push through those times of discomfort. If you give up because of the discomfort then you are destined to fail in your pursuit of change. Embrace the discomfort associated with change and recognize that it puts you one step closer to accomplishing your goals.

    Stick to the Plan

    You will have good days and bad days in your pursuit of change. You will only succeed if you stick to the plan and push forward. If you get derailed from the plan don’t berate yourself. Instead allow yourself for some margin of error and then get back on track. You can’t expect to go on a diet without splurging sometimes. The key is “sometimes”. You shouldn’t make it a habit of getting off track, as it will slow down your progress. The sooner you get back on track on your plan, the more successful you will be in accomplishing your change goals. Set a plan and be committed to achieving it one day at a time and you will find success.

    Other researchers on the topic of change believe this process is about dedication and commitment to the change desired in our day to day lives, as Douglas LaBier from the Huffington Post so aptly stated:[4]

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    Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.

    Here are some tips on sticking to a plan:

    Self-reflect on things that have derailed you in the past and problem solve them before they happen.

    Jot down those things that tend to get you off track. Now list ways to combat the derailments before they happen. For example if you are wanting to lose weigh, but you work late hours then commit to morning workouts. If you know in the past you would continually hit the snooze button and subsequently miss the workouts, then hire a trainer for early morning workouts. You are less likely to miss your workout if you have real money attached to it and someone counting on you to show up. You could also schedule morning workouts with a friend, so you know there is someone showing up and you don’t want to let them down. Brain storm solutions for your past derailments, so that this time around you are ready to stick to the plan and the commitment you have made to change.

    Don’t do things halfway, do them 100% of the time consistently.

    If you are working out every morning for weeks but aren’t seeing change after a month or more because you are just showing up and giving it 50% you are more likely to quit. However, if you are giving 100% every morning at those workouts and you are sticking to the diet you will see change and progress. Those small changes are what keep you committed to an overall larger change in the long run. You are less likely to give up if you see the plan is working for you. In order for your plan to work, you need to give it all that you have in you.

    Define your commitment and be very specific.

    Commitment is a daily mental and physical plight when it comes to change. If your commitment is to lose weight then be specific about how you are going to achieve your change. For example, you decide you are going to stick to 1,800 calories a day and a 1 hour workout every day. Then write those goals down and chart your daily progress and achievement of these goals. Hold yourself accountable. Sticking to a plan is a great deal about the day in and day out commitments. Those commitments need to be achievable, yet challenging so you can produce change over time. Write them down, make them visible, and best of all create a chart of your daily progress in sticking to those commitments.

    Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

    Reference

    [1] Runners’ World: Half Marathon Training for Beginners
    [2] Tony Robin: Commit to Change
    [3] Psychology Today: Do People Really Change?
    [4] HuffPost: Can You Ever Really Change Your Personality?

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    Dr. Magdalena Battles

    A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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    Last Updated on October 30, 2019

    How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

    How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

    Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

    In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

    Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

    You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

    What is the Stages of Change Model?

    Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

    Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

    Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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      The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

      The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

      The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

      The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

      1. Precontemplation
      2. Contemplation
      3. Determination
      4. Action
      5. Maintenance
      6. Termination

      How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

      To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

        Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

        Stage 1: Precontemplation

        At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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        For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

        Stage 2: Contemplation

        At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

        You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

        The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

        Stage 3: Preparation

        At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

        Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

        Stage 4: Action

        When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

        Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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        Stage 5: Maintenance

        After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

        Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

        Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

        Stage 6: Termination

        Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

        However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

        How long does each stage take?

        You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

        So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

        The limitations of this model

        The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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        Require the ability to set a realistic goal

        For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

        If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

        Difficult to judge your progress

        The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

        Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

        Conclusion

        The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

        While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

        Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
        [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
        [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
        [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
        [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
        [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
        [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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