"The key to successful change is to use the right strategy for the right time." (James Prochaska)
Have you ever tried to change an area of your life and found it tough to do? It could have been your health, your job, where you spend your time, or even getting out of bed in the morning. After a while you roll over and punch the snooze button for the third time, your shadow hasn't darkened the door of the gym in a little while and that pizza and ice cream is somehow back in the fridge. Who put that there? Why does this happen? Well, let's have the experts give some insight into how to change for good. In the book Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving your Life Positively Forward three acclaimed psychologists all with PhDs studied more than 1,000 people who were able to positively and permanently alter their lives. Through this research they discovered that change does not depend on luck or willpower. Hmm... if it doesn't depend on luck or willpower what does it depend on?
It is actually a systematic process and once you determine where you are at in the process and you follow the steps, you can change any area of your life whether that is saving money, losing weight, or quitting smoking etc.
Do you want to know the system to effectively change any area of your life for good?
Lets start at the beginning. There are actually 6 stages to making a change and climbing to the top of the self-actualization mountain and sitting on it like a guru with a smug look on your face. Like this guy...
6 Stages of Change:
Stage 1. Precontemplation
Here are some hints to know whether this is your starting stage. You may have not really thought about changing or you would really rather not change. "Ehhh, that mountain is too darn high." You may not think that you have a problem and become defensive when anyone brings up the subject to you. "Are you kidding me? You think I just pounded the whole box of Oreos?! You must be outside your mind!" You may have tried to change before and failed and you may not have much hope that you can ever get out of the situation. It's okay to feel this way. It's also okay to not change right away. It may not be the right time for you. No one can make the change for you so don't allow them to put too much pressure on you. But there is hope.
Another sign that you are in the precontemplation stage is if a list of excuses and plausible explanations for your behavior runs through your mind whenever change is presented. This could be that you are too busy or the kids are crazy or you travel a lot and have a lot of business meetings so you can't eat healthy. These are all perfectly valid reasons. In this stage it can be easy look at your situation or other people or the environment that you are in to explain why it is difficult to change. It can be also be easy to accuse yourself of not trying harder or just feeling bad about where you are at.
Let me tell you that we all feel like this at some point. It is real. We all have areas of our life that we wish we were different in, or more accomplished, or more confident. That's ok. It is ok to be where you are. But there is hope and if you want to change here is how...
Everything begins with awareness.
Like we mentioned in the last two articles on change it all starts with understanding where you are at and what stage of change you are in. So if you are in the pre-contemplative stage begin with...
Becoming aware of your defenses to change.
When you think about a specific change what thoughts go through your mind? Are they self-defeating? Are they discouraging? Do you feel angry or frustrated when someone talks to you about a certain subject?
Don't worry about changing anything right now just start with realizing your automatic responses in this area. If you have amazing, loving, compassionate friends and family members and you are willing to open up to them, ask them if they notice any areas that you get defensive in. If you are really brave, ask them to gently point out when you start becoming defensive. These questions will move you into the...
Stage 2 Contemplation Stage:
Really, that's all it took to move up a stage? Yeah, that's it. Just become aware. Congratulations! You are one step closer to that mountain guru that has it all together! High Five! So in this stage you get your boots on and begin to acknowledge the problem, look it square in the face and recognize it for what it is. "This town ain't big enough for the two of us!" You shout across the dusty, sandy expanse as you finger your well worn six-shooter in its leather holster. This is where you begin to seriously consider getting rid of that "varmit" that has been plaguing your town for a while.
But that "varmit" is tricky. He'd rather stay in this town. So he tries to distract you from kicking him out. He makes you think that you need to know everything about him and research and read and keep researching and reading while he sits back into his chair and relaxes with his feet up. Many people get stuck in the contemplation stage because that is all they do. They contemplate...and contemplate...and contemplate. Meanwhile the fear of failure roots their feet to the ground and they get stuck waiting for the right time.
It is easier to wish for change that it is to work toward it.
But that's not you! You are here to change! Awareness precedes action but it can't stay there. So you know you are ready for the next stage when you focus more on the solution than the problem and you look toward what the future could be.
Here are 6 steps you can take to create the future you want.
1. Git yer emotions into it!
Picture what your life will be like if you continue to live the way that you always have without changing. What don't you like about that picture? What would you want to be different? Now picture what your life will be like if you are able to successfully change. Imagine your perfect life. How would that make you feel? What would be different about that picture? You can even write yourself a Destination Postcard. What is that? Well, let me tell yah. It's a postcard from "future you" to "now you". You, a year from now, zaps into the street with your smoking Delorean and tells "now you" how amazing your future is and what is so great about it. "Future you" hands "now you" a postcard, give you a thumbs up, a pat on the back and tell you its all worth it. You look down at the postcard in your hands as "future you" screams away on to bigger and better adventures. What does is say? That's a Destination Postcard.
2. Define your outcome goals
Now let's be SMART about this. SMART goals are Specific, something you can Measure, they are Attractive, Realistic, and have a Time frame. For instance, you want to lose 30lbs by the May of next year because you have a 10yr college reunion. This is important because you want to look like Brad Pitt from fight club or Jennifer Aniston who somehow always manages to look good. Alright, admit it. We all kind of wish we looked like that at least once in our lives.
3. Now define your behavior goals.
While outcome goals and looking all Jennifer Anistonish are great and all, we can't directly control that. We can't control how much fat our body metabolizes or how much muscle it builds. (Unfortunately, right?) We can, however, directly control the behaviors we need to take to get to those goals like having 3 servings of veggies a day or going to the gym at least 3 times per week. So write down all the behaviors you would need to do to get to your goal. Again, don't worry about changing right now. Just start to create a game plan.
4. Notice the phrases you use right before a certain behavior
These are usually subconscious and you might miss them if your aren't paying attention. They sometimes sound like this... I worked hard, I deserve this. This will make me feel better etc. Self-awareness again? Yep. You got it! Then make a list of all of these statements. Soon you'll be so self aware you can individually count all the hairs on your head and feel which ones have split ends (for all the ladies out there).
5. Ask yourself two crazy questions.
What is BAD about changing? What is GOOD about not changing? I know. Crazy right? Aren't you wanting to change? Yes. Absolutely. But there is a reason why you haven't changed yet or that you have been unsuccessful in the past. This allows you to explore that reason and the values you have behind that reason.
6. Use this to make a list of the PROS and CONS for changing and for staying the same.
If you have a longer list of PROS for staying the same then you probably aren't ready to change.
"You need to increase your PROS for change twice as much as you need to decrease the cons. If you bypass the contemplation and preparation stages, your change efforts are likely to fail."(James Prochaska, Phd Change Psychologist)
And we don't want you to fail do we? Not at all! Whew! That's a lot to think about! Let's review.
1. Write a Destination Postcard
2. Define Outcome Goals
3. Define Behavior Goals
4. Notice your phrases
5. Ask yourself two crazy questions
6. Make a PROS and CONS list
So pick one or two things or work your way through all of them and actually do them this week. Next week, we will look at the other stages of change. Get out your hiking boots, ladies and gentlemen, because we are climbing this mountain!
Comment about what stood out to you the most!
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