It might surprise you, but lasting change doesn’t start with the action of changing.
Whether it’s changing your relationship with food or modifying a habit that’s causing you discomfort, for lasting change to occur there’s a distinct sequence of events that must happen prior to taking action.
And if you don’t know about these invisible, behind-the-scenes stages, you might be growing frustrated by what looks like a lack of progress.
The stages of change
I first read about this sequence in Martha Beck’s book: The Four Day Win. In her book, she discussed the work of two researchers named Prochaska and DiClemente. They discovered lasting change occurs not in a one-step process, as we usually imagine it … but in seven sequential stages:
- Stage 1: pre-contemplation
- Stage 2: contemplation
- Stage 3: preparation
- Stage 4: action
- Stage 5: maintenance
- Stage 6: relapse
- Stage 7: termination (celebration)
Did you notice that no action occurs until step number four in the above sequence? Given that most of us jump directly into the action step, is it any wonder that many attempts at change don’t work?
Or, that we feel we’re not making progress even on the goals we know we want more than anything?
That’s why it’s important to remember to allow yourself the space to move through the steps of change.
Change is not a single event, but a sequence of stages. (Click to Tweet)
I’m reminded of this today because it was one of those days where nothing went as planned. I had every excuse not to work out. From scheduling conflicts, to technical issues with the audio I was going to listen to during my workout, to a broken shoelace mid-workout, it took me a lot of determination to get in a simple 45 minutes on the treadmill.
But regardless of what came up, my workout still happened because it’s now nearly a non-negotiable issue for me.
At this point, I’ve already moved through the inactive stages of change.
Just a few short years ago (while I was still in the early stages of change), if I had experienced even one of today’s obstacles, the workout would have never happened. It wasn’t because there was anything wrong with me. It was because I wasn’t far enough along in the change sequence.
What to do when change feels difficult
When it feels like change is not happening, or isn’t happening fast enough, try the following:
1. Check in with why you’re doing it. Make sure your why is strong and is internally motivated. A weak why rarely produces lasting results.
2. Give yourself room for stages 1-3: pre-contemplation, contemplation, and preparation. Remember that change starts on the inside. Use supportive thoughts and visualizations to help ease yourself into the action stages.
Instead of beating yourself up for not being where you want to be, visualize yourself achieving what it is you want. Also, allow yourself to feel the accompanying emotions. Visualization is important because the mind works in pictures, not words. And feeling the accompanying emotions gives your visualizations additional power.
3. Forgive yourself for the occasional relapses of stage 6 (it happens!).
4. Embrace change as the sequence it is and see where that shift in perspective takes you.
If you need any help along the way, just let me know.