By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
Have you ever struggled to start something new? Even something as easy as making time to read? And, when you fail to start this new behavior, do you beat yourself up? Maybe something like, “How hard is it to…insert the seemingly small or incredibly huge life change". I’m here to tell you, it’s not your fault! This is not a free pass, however, to avoid attempting said change, especially if it is beneficial to your health and wellness.
In case you didn’t hear me the first time, it’s not your fault! Give yourself grace, but, as a good friend of mine recently said, there is a very fine line between giving yourself grace and making excuses. Let’s be real.
In order to change a behavior, no matter the size, you need effort, persistence, and time as well as the right mindset. If you are not in the right mindset, or stage of change, you will not be able to succeed in the behavior change, no matter how small it may seem. Recognizing which stage you are in is extremely helpful. If you know the stage, you can use strategies to move your mindset towards being ready for change. And, I know we would all like a magic wand so that effort, persistence, and time weren’t a factor, but, alas, not possible. Be wary, my friends, of all things that promise a quick fix without doing the work. Quick fixes are often followed by quick “un-fixes”, if you catch my drift.
In cognitive theory, there is a model of change that involves five stages of change – precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. There is a sixth piece, called relapse, that can cycle in and out of any of the other stages. Did you catch that? You can relapse at ANY and ALL stages. See? Not your fault! This is the way the brain works. The key is to work WITH this cycle and not against it to achieve a lasting change in behavior.
The precontemplation stage can show up two ways; either you have no idea there is another option for a certain behavior or you have recognized a change is needed but you are not ready to make the change. I like to think of this stage as the, “Yeah...I’m good” mindset. To move out of this stage, you need to realize there is another way to do things and be open-minded to a new way. This often will come from an outside source like social media, the news, or friends and family. Remember? You have no idea that there is a different way so you need exposure from somewhere else.
The contemplation stage is where you recognize that you need to change a behavior and start getting ready to make the change. This is the, “Hmmm...let’s look into this” mindset. You have realized there might be another way, and you are curious to find out more information; you are exploring the what and the why behind this possible new change. Finding out information is the biggest way to shift from thinking about making a change to putting steps into action to make the change. Thinking about the pros and cons in making the change is very helpful to see if you are ready to move forward.
Next is the preparation stage. At this point in the change game, you have realized there is a better way, and now you are actively looking into the how behind making this change. This is the “Getting ready” mindset. This is where you might look into strategies or information on how to make the change happen. An important but often overlooked strategy in this step would be to also explore possible excuses and ways to overcome these excuses so that these do not derail you.
In the action stage, you are actively changing the behavior. This is the “Ready, Set, GO!” mindset. You are putting all your plans into action. A great way to keep your momentum moving forward is to keep track of your progress, break large goals into smaller and easier to achieve goals, and to celebrate when milestones are hit, even if they appear small.
In the maintenance stage, you are maintaining the new behavior. This is where the new change has become a habit; it’s the “This is what I do” mindset. You don’t have to think about the behavior any longer. This takes time and persistence, dear friends, so stick with it! Studies have shown on average it takes around 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit. And in this change model, a behavior isn’t considered in maintenance until you have consistently done it for 6 months. This is not to deter you but to keep it real. If you want lasting change, you have to put in the time and effort. There are no shortcuts.
And, you guessed it, in the relapse stage, you have taken a step back into the old behavior; it’s the “Oops...how did I get back here?” mindset. Do not grow weary or beat yourself up on finding yourself in relapse! (Relapse, not rehab...lol). This is part of the game. And, let’s be real, life happens! The bigger the change, the more likely chance you will have a relapse. The key is to recognize that it happened and evaluate where you might have went wrong. This is valuable information that you can learn from so, when you are ready, you can restart and be prepared for this pitfall.
Why did I feel this information is important? In my career as a nurse practitioner, I have seen this model in action all the time. People realize they need to change or want to change but it just won’t stick. This particularly happens with a huge scary life event like a heart attack. They beat themselves up for not being “strong” enough to change their behavior or they get frustrated or their family starts getting on their case to change. But, they just can’t do it, so they give up. And, the cycle goes on or worsens. Here’s the thing, even with a life threatening illness, if you aren’t in the right mindset to change, if you don’t go through these phases, your likelihood of success is very low, almost impossible. Your willpower is not strong enough to overcome ingrained habits unless you work on your mindset. You need to change your belief system from what you were to where you want to be to really change the habits for good.
Phew...drop the mic, lesson over! Check back soon for strategies to move from one stage to another. Your first step to making change is to realize where you are in this cycle so you have a direction on where to go next. You got this!
Jackie White has been writing about life and its ups and downs for many years. With a degree in Industrial Psychology and a life-long student of personal development she is intrigued by how each individual chooses to live their life. Jackie feels strongly that truly living your best life is imperative to attaining peace and fulfillment. SoulShine was borne of her desire to inspire and teach others to live their best life. This is her mission and her dream.