Were you one of the millions of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution this year? Will you be one of the few who actually succeeds in keeping it?
Whether you want to exercise more, develop closer friendships, improve your finances, complete your education, quit smoking, or any of a thousand other goals, making change is hard. One of the biggest barriers to achieving change is the way we think about it.
The first step in making change is to realize that there is something in your life you don’t like. In this, the pre-contemplation stage, you don’t really have an intention to change. Rather, at this stage, you’re gathering information and input from those around you. You may do some research or you may become aware that friends and family have been commenting more and more about a particular behavior you didn’t even recognize as problematic.
It is at this stage we begin to develop the motivation to change. This typically starts with gathering more information about the behavior to be changed. A smoker may recognize he’s coughing a lot more. A person dealing with a weight issue may recognize how uncomfortable they feel in social settings. Friends may comment on how much you’ve been drinking. You may realize your outward behaviors no longer square with your inner values.
At the contemplation stage, the internal debate about change begins. The individual begins to weigh the costs and benefits, both of making the change and of not making the change. There’s a lot of uncertainty and questioning. Writing it down and making comparisons can help you weigh things out. It’s also a good time to think about obstacles and ways to overcome them.
In the preparation stage, you’ve made the decision to change in the immediate future. There is a timeline and a goal. You might “test the waters” to see if the desired change is possible and how difficult it might be. For example, a smoker may set a goal of making it through a day without a cigarette. The dieter may eliminate between-meal snacks for a day. These “trial runs” are building confidence and setting you up for the next stage.
In the action stage, you’re fully committed and actively working toward the goal. Progress may be slow, but it is steady. At this stage, your commitment can really be challenged. Friends and families may unwittingly sabotage your efforts. The best friend who urges you to just take a bite of a dessert; the brother who offers a cigarette even though he knows you’re trying to quit. Now is the time to use the strategies for the preparation stage. Surround yourself with others who are, or have, tackled the same change. Expect to relapse, but don’t allow it to be an excuse to return to former bad behaviors. Celebrate your accomplishments.
The final stage, maintenance, is achieved when the desired behavior is firmly in place, typically after about six months. You’re smoke-free. You’ve achieved your goal weight. You wouldn’t dream of missing a workout. The risk of relapse is always there, but it lessens as time goes on. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and continue to apply the lessons learned in the earlier stages.
We Americans tend to think of ourselves as strong and resilient, able to rise to any challenge. As a result, there can be a stigma around those who seek help. But some changes can only be achieved with help.
The path to change is not one you have to travel alone. Bluegrass serves the behavioral health needs of children, individuals and families across 17 counties in central Kentucky. Our professionals provide individual, family and group counseling. We use evidence-based treatment to help clients achieve their fullest potential. For more information or to get started, call the 24-hour helpline at 1.800.928.8000.