Change is possible. It is a journey where some roads that may feel perilous at times but with adequate strategies the outcome can be a life-changing experience. As everybody is unique with unique circumstances there is no one golden rule, like a magic bullet that sorts instantly our issues. Instead we may observe a pattern of different phases we experience during challenging times.
Research by psychologist James O. Prochaska, Ph.D shows that change occurs in stages detailed below.
- Feeling stuck: You feel entrenched in a problem often feeling cut and isolated.
Touching the ‘bottom end’, in other words your own threshold for tolerance, acts as a springboard for motivating you to change. You may start sporadically sharing your issues.
Strategies: the first step towards opening up to ‘others’ is tremendously difficult. You might be scared of their reaction, feel too much vulnerable by letting the source of our problem becoming ‘alive’ by putting a word onto it. So you might freeze, hide and not move. Different people have different levels of resistance to pain. Ask yourself how worse does it need to be before you reach for help? Can you name a time, as far as you can remember, when someone gave you a helpful hand and how did you feel then?
- Reaching for help is a problem half solved. The acceptance phase has now begun. Talking more often to friends, colleagues or family members allows you to offload some of our burden. They might offer a pragmatic or/and an emotional support and you might still resist. Change is frightening and fear of the unknown might paralyse you into the current familiar status quo no matter how much pain you are still enduring.
You might start accepting help but not taking any initiative. That way you are testing out if you can surrender ourselves and lean onto others for support.
Strategies: use helpers that you can trust to guide you and support you emotionally. Not everyone does offer the same. So you may find that a variety of different people offering you with a wide range of help.
- Believing: Those 2 stages are pivotal in the change process and extremely difficult emotionally. Adequate support in terms of containment is essential to allow you overcoming the highs and lows of new experiences as well as keeping motivated and hopeful.
You start engaging more rather than passively being helped. There is a change of perspective happening as you start seeing the situation from other people’s lenses. Curiosity and interest are re-appearing and constitute the major factors allowing to move forward.
New perspectives and new goals are being tested.
Strategies: examining all foreseen consequences, the pros and cons, remaining realistic are crucial in order to minimise the probability of failure and increased fear.
By breaking down the behaviour and chunking it down you may start noticing the difference between what you want and what you can. What you want is not necessarily what you need. Challenging yourself in a structured and contained way enables you to rediscover yourself.
- Learning: Self-confidence is growing as you have now learnt new outcomes from new experiences. You are feeling more in control of your behaviours and better in tune with your emotions acting as an internal feed back. Although you increasingly feel in the ‘driver’s seat’ external support is still felt valuable and needed but from a ‘co-pilot’ perspective.
The support is now less present and has moved to a ‘back stage’ role in case you trip. You are enjoying the process of learning and are ripping its rewards.
Strategies: Regular practice is well known from athletes to be the key ingredient for successful change. According to Philippa Lally and her colleagues it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Repeated behaviours create and strengthen new neurological pathways and lead to new automatisms. Be your own champion and keep the practice going!
Enjoy and cultivate positive reinforcement. The ‘work’ needs to be a source of positive feelings.
- Resilience: The level of support is now very low and you may feel a greater sense of inner calm. You are able to map your success and identify the successive steps taken to reach your end goal.
You have now gained a greater awareness of your environment and yourselves. You know where, when and how you can resource yourself if needs be. You feel confident that you can bounce back from challenging situations. Your past limitations become a source of insight about yourself and no longer an enemy.
Strategies: Map your success. Chunking the journey into little steps helps you getting clarity into what was helpful and what wasn’t. It also shows you how much work you’ve put into your recovery. No efforts, no matter how small they might have seemed, were insignificant. Little successes build up your self-esteem as you take time to acknowledge your courage and strengths.
- Prochaska and DiClemente, C. C. (1982) Transtheoretical Therapy: Towards a more integrative model of change Psychotherapy: Therapy, Research and Practice, Vol. 19 pp 276-88.
- Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998–1009.