How many times have you heard yourself say “I really need to change X?” or “I should be doing Y differently?” Or maybe you can relate to this scenario – it’s New Year’s Eve and you are talking with a group of friends about what sort of New You to expect in the New Year. You mention the usual culprits: save money, lose weight, stop drinking, change jobs, only to find that 2 weeks later you have racked up some big spending on your credit card, stacked on a few Christmas-feasting kilos, had a few binge drinking-filled weekends, and put your hand up to do some extra hours at work. Suddenly, you feel like a failure!!
Not necessarily. Perhaps this comes down to a planning hiccup instead.
As you are probably aware, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Something I have learned from my Sport Psychology work with elite athletes is if you really want to achieve something, you need a damn good reason to start in the first place, and a solid plan to help you get there.
Let’s start at the beginning. Consider first of all where you are at in terms of your readiness for change. A useful model I find myself referring to here is the “stages of change” model by Prochaska and DiClemente. Read through the information below, with a change in mind that you may want to implement. Think about which of the stages resonates most with where you might be at the moment.
I like to refer to this stage as the “I won’t” stage. This stage is characterised by denial of a problem, resistance to change, no recognition of an issue, and a lack of insight about your own behaviour or the impact this is having on others.
Let’s take the example of a worker who was recently referred to me for his anger issues. Here were some of his comments in relation to being asked to see me:
- “Things are fine the way they are, it’s everybody else who has a problem”
- “My manager just has it in for me, and the team I work with are morons”
- “What, me need to change? You’re kidding!”
You can see here that change really isn’t on this individual’s agenda.
Here are some other examples you might be able to relate to:
(1) a friend who is drinking at levels you are concerned about:
- “You guys are exaggerating, it’s not THAT much of a problem”
- “Yeah I like to drink but doesn’t everybody here?”
- “It’s not like I’m an alcoholic, I just drink on weekends”
(2) somebody who has been told by their doctor that they should start incorporating physical activity into their sedentary lifestyle
- “That’s nonsense, I feel great the way I am”
- “Actually I’ve read that people who exercise get more sick than those who don’t”
- “I used to exercise, and I’m not interested at all in doing it again anytime soon”
This stage resembles the “I might” mentality towards change. In this stage, a person is thinking about the issue but has lots of ambivalence around making a change. Some examples of things a person may say which would relate to this stage are:
- “I guess I could use a bit of a shake-up”, “I wouldn’t mind learning new ways to interact with people but where do I start”, “hmmm I suppose cutting back on my drinking couldn’t hurt but I’m not sure how my friends will take it”, and “well I did enjoy the time out exercise gave me, but it’s been so long since I’ve done anything”.
Notice the ‘yes, but’ type of thinking here.
Here the language changes to “I will”. Usually a psychological commitment to change has been reached, and a person is determined to make a change. Also, a plan for working towards a new goal may be considered.
- “I’m ready for this”
- “I’ve thought about all the activities I could do INSTEAD of drinking”
- “it’s time to look into what sort of exercise I might want to do”
- “I’ve bought a book on assertive communication, so I’m ready to learn different ways of communicating with my work colleagues”
This is the “I am” stage. Change has happened. Behavioural steps have taken place, but the behaviour is not yet a habit.
- “I’ve gone to the gym a couple of times”
- “Instead of drinking, I’ve met up with some friends at a café and had a tea”
- “I decided to just stop talking and let me manager talk to me the other day without getting fired up”
Initially it was believed that a habit isn’t formed until 28 days of repeating the same behaviour (in fact, this is why so many drug and alcohol rehab programs go for 28 days) but more recent research indicates that it really depends on what habit we are trying to break and how entrenched we are by it. For example, in a recent article entitled “How many days does it take to change” in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 7th 2014, a study was cited from the University College in London where the average time it took participants to create a habit was 66 days with some taking more than 200 days!
According to the stages of change model, relapse or returning to old ways is most common at this stage.
This stage is characterised by the statement “I have been”. The new behaviour has been in place for at least 6 months (according to this theory), and part of a person’s routine.
Something to keep in mind is that change does not happen sequentially, but follows more of a cyclical pattern. For example, a person may cycle from Preparation to Action a few times before reaching the Maintenance stage.
For the earlier stages, cognitive strategies work best to help a person reach a decision TO change. For example, thinking about the pros and cons of changing, generating the pros and cons of not changing, brainstorming solutions to overcome expected barriers, enlisting social support for change, and thinking up plans to allow the change to happen.
For later stages, behavioural strategies work best to support the change process and prepare for any bumps in the road. For example, goal setting strategies, rewards to keep you motivated, and recovery plans to deal with lapses.
My next blog post will discuss some ways to help you set goals to help you focus on the steps needed to reach your desired outcome. I will also share with you some insights from Sport Psychology in how elite athletes use determination to reach their goals.