Making Change Happen

The drive to change can sometimes feel quite compelling, pertinent or even obligatory. Such as at the annual self reappraisal we inflict upon ourselves at start of the new year, or if you book a holiday, get a bad medical report or decide it’s time to change jobs.  However, as most people discover the gap between your ideas of how you  might like to change and your ability to make that change happen; permanently, is often quite large. Most people find themselves caught in a perpetual, yo-yo change cycle, of initiating change, failing after a few weeks or months, self recrimination and suffering, a period of slow building of resolve only to repeat the cycle again.

If this is you then relax, take a breath and forgive yourself because this pattern is very, very normal.  So why is it so hard to change even when we know we need to to? The main reason is that we tend to focus not on the change itself but rather the result we hope it will bring.

For example if we want to quite smoking or to change our diet to lose weight then we tend to focus on the desired result; better lungs, staving of death or being leaner and fitter. This is our goal, this is where the happiness lies. But when success only lies in the accomplishment of the goal then the day to day striving to meet that goal just becomes an effort, a suffering, a barrier to reaching that goal. An obstacle to overcome, day after day, after day. A bit of grit and will power will keep you going for a while but only for a while. Eventually what happens is that your resolve breaks down and you quit.

There is however a way to make change stick and it starts with putting your attention into the processes of the change you want to make and not the result. If you see new patterns of living as your goal and the results of those changes as the bonus then instead of every day becoming a torturous grind of denial and suffering they become days of quiet contentment, satisfaction and success. The trick is knowing what process to apply to your desired change and how you might go about applying them to your life. Fortunately the heavy work of figuring this out for you has all ready been done by psychologists such as Prochaska, Norcross, Diclemente and others who work on Change Theory. [1]

Change Theory, is the psychological study of how people make changes to their lives and how they make those changes stick, It covers a large area of study and experimentation but in this article i am going to give you the key 9 processes you can use to help insure whatever changes you choose to make to you life, stick. The more closely you apply these processes to the change you want to make the better your chances of making that change a permanent one. And if you do fall back a bit from time to time that is fine too and also very, very normal. Change rarely happens in a straight upward line over time. Imagine it more like the stock market trending upwards. Yes it will bump up and down a bit; there will occasionally be sharper spikes up or down too, but as long as the trend is on the up then you are making progress. When you learn to engage more with the processes of change rather than just the desired result,minor setbacks will feel just that, minor, and the day to day activities of change will feel easy, relaxed and very doable.

The 9 Processes of change.

Below I will list and give examples of the 9 process of change as recommended by Prochaska, Norcross and Diclemente. You do not need to take all 9 on board right from the start. Pick two or three processes that you feel are pertinent to the change you are planning to make and apply them to your strategy. Depending on where you are with regard to your change; starting to just think about it or completely committed to taking action right now, some of the process will be more appropriate than others. If you are interested in combining both your stage of change with the processes of change then I highly recommend you read, Prochaska, Norcross and Diclemente’s “Changing for Good”

For the purpose of this article I will focus on diet and smoking as examples as I go through the 9 processes of change but you can apply these processes to any changes you are looking to make.

Consciousness Raising
To make the unconscious conscious. Open questions can lead to a raising of consciousness. Ask yourself questions about why you want to make the change. Watch video of others who have gone before you. Read books about others who have succeeded. Don’t be afraid to look at what might happen if you don’t change.  Face the reality of your situation and ask yourself if this is where you want to go.

Social Liberation
External environments that aid in change. You can’t smoke on the bus. A steak house on the Keto diet is a good idea. Join a gym. If you know you spend a lot of time in the smoking area of a particular pub and you want to quit, start going to a different pub, preferable one that does not have a smoking area. If you head to the pastry shop every day at lunchtime, pick somewhere new to have lunch. Find a place that serves the foods that are on your diet plan.

Emotional arousal
How high emotions can change behavior. The loss of loved one to smoking, or being overweight. Read or watch emotional accounts of survivors; people who have suffered but survived.

Self-Revaluation is a thoughtful and emotional change in a drive to change. It enables you to see how and when you problem behavior clashes with your core values. Sit down and start to write out a list of what is important to you, truly important; your beliefs and core values. See how your change fits with these values and how the habit you want to change does not. For example, if you value being responsible for your family and leading by example then if you are a smoker, you are giving a bad example and you are endangering your chances of being their for your family as you get older. Smoking therefore goes against your values.

Commitment is the accepting of the responsibility to change. Change can only come from within. Commitment is also will power. We never rely solely on will power because it cannot sustain us over the long period but it should still be a part of your plan to change. A little bit of grit can go long way. One way to use commitment is to make a list of what you will do each week to make your change happen and then at the end of each week sit down and look over you list and be honest with yourself  as to whether you have stuck to your guns. If not, don’t punish yourself , that does not help at all but re-commit to the parts you think you can do the following week. Do not commit to anything that you know you will not be able to accomplish. Keep things simple. Commitments should be challenging but not so much that you will get frustrated trying to keep to them. They should be easy, but not so easy as to require no effort or be boring.

Countering is the use of more healthy options to replace some of the bad ones. If you always smoke first thing in the morning then go for a jog first thing instead. If you always over eat at restaurants but don’t at home, then eat more at home. It adjusts the individual responses to stimuli.. Waking = jogging not smoking.

Environmental Control
Similar to Countering. If you always pick the same unhealthy meal at a certain restaurant, then pick another restaurant. It adjusts the stimuli. Put, No Smoking, signs up around the house. Dump all the bad foods out of the house. Get rid of ashtrays. Do not leave lighters laying about the place. Throw all the fast food menus in the bin. If you always eat biscuits after dinner replace them with something else, like cheese. If you always smoke after diner, wash the dishes instead. Countering can change habits really quickly.

A gift for a goal reached. New clothes, a holiday. A book or a trip to the cinema. The trick with rewards is not to do them to often (once a week is fine) and do not relate them in any way to the habit you are looking to change. For example, if you are dieting then do not make your reward, food. It is one thing to eat off plan from time to time, that is fine. It is something very different if you reward yourself with a food you are trying to stop eating as a reward for not eating that very same food.

Helping relationships
Helpful friends, colleagues of family members. Find people on a similar journey to you. Join a group like one of our weight loss groups. Get in evolved with Mindfulness courses, hire a health coach. Find people that you can talk with about what you are doing. People who will listen without judgement.

Change is never easy. It takes a little time and a shift in your mental outlook on the world and on your self but it can be done and it can be done without forcing yourself. When you have the tools to change you take a lot of the pain out of it and you will even get to enjoy the process. Give it a go and make more of the life you have.