Why do we find it so difficult to change our behavior and maintain that change in our everyday lives? Many of us find the idea of change to be scary. We have routines, relationships and families and any type of adjustment can tip the homeostasis of our lives. Whether the change we are making is for the better or not, it still can upset the apple cart.
The thought of change and the process of change can cause anxiety, worry and fear. These feelings are not usually welcome feelings in our lives such as joy, relaxation and happiness. Most of us do not embrace feelings that may cause us discomfort, so the idea of making a change that will cause us discomfort may seem counter-intuitive. However, many of us need to make changes for health reasons or to improve our lives and the discomfort may be for a short period of time where the actual change in behavior may bring a positive life outcome. Change is not always easy, can be good and sometimes is necessary as we evolve.
When we decide to change a behavior, such as not smoking, weight loss, or starting an exercise program many of us find it extremely difficult to make a permanent change. Using weight loss as an example, some of us have difficulty losing weight, some can meet a partial weight loss goal and others can attain the goal but have difficulty maintaining the weight loss. Changing our behavior involves moving through several stages. Motivation and emotional well being are an integral part of the process of behavior change.
Two famous researchers, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM) also known as The Stages of Change, which include five stages of change. This is the process that each of us progress through as we are attempting to make a behavioral change. This process is not simple and at times there is frustration and demoralization when we feel we may not be successful on our journey. This model assists us in offering us a vocabulary and a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings we have while we move toward our goal.
The Stages of Change:
Precontemplation: While in this stage we may not see our behavior as problematic. We are sometimes characterized as unmotivated, in denial or resistant to change. We will not be taking action within the next 6 months.
Contemplation: We are sometimes characterized in this stage as ambivalent. We are struggling with the pros and cons of our particular situation, but moving toward the benefits of change. We will be taking action to change in the next 6 months.
Preparation: We have a plan of how we are going to attain our goal of change. We have taken some small action, for example if weight loss is our goal we have been choosing healthier food options. We are intending to take action in the next month.
Action: We have implemented our action plan and have taken specific actions to change our behavior and attain our goals. We must be diligent in this stage to avoid falling back into previous poor behaviors and patterns of behavior. We have changed our behavior for less than 6 months.
Maintenance: We are continuing our changed behavior and are managing temptations to fall back into our previous behavioral patterns. We are gaining confidence that we will continue our current changes. We have changed our behavior for over 6 months.
These stages are fluid and at any time during the process we can fall back to previous stages or relapse. Many of us jump to the action stage when we are really in one of the previous stages, which may be why we have difficulty attaining our goals. Motivation is a key component to progress with change. A strong support system is also very useful while on the journey of change as emotional well being is important to goal attainment. If we have a strong support system we are more likely to continue when we are feeling stressed or tempted to return to previous behaviors.
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to be therapy or treatment, it is for informational purposes only.
Dr. Deb is a successful Psychologist who practices in New York City. She is an Anxiety Specialist who works with adolescents and adults providing both individual and couples counseling.