It’s natural to crave change when life isn’t how we want it to be. We may adopt a grass is greener on the other side mentality. What we need to remember is that change takes time and often multiple attempts. If we don’t see the results we desire after we started to set a change in motion, we may take additional action as an attempt to bring about the change we want see. It’s important to remember that with change, there are often setbacks and mishaps and it’s wise to plan for them, and not to give up if you experience a setback.
Change is a process and something that happens over time. The stages of change are well-known in substance abuse and recovery healing world. The stages of change can be helpful even if you do not consider yourself to be in recovery because you may go through a similar cycle when working on making changes in your live. The stages of change include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, relapse and maintenance, and termination. We are often in the pre-contemplation stage when life is getting funky, but we haven’t started thinking about making any change in our lives. When we experience the contemplation stage, we’re thinking or daydreaming about the pros and cons of how life would be better if we did something differently, behaved differently or had something that we perceived would raise our status (examples a college degree, a wife or husband, a CEO, etc). During the preparation stage, we do research and plan out how we’re going to make the change happen. An example would be looking into diets or exercise programs to try in order to live a healthier lifestyle. The action phase is when we finally take that leap of faith to make our lives better by changing something (starting something new or letting something go) in our life. Something helpful to remember is that when we go to make a change, it’s common to experience a mix of excitement and anxiety because we’re happy to make the change and nervous because we’re not 100% sure how the change will play out. A part of the next stage is relapse. If you’re not in recovery, you may initially think this stage will not apply to you. That’s not necessarily true. Have you ever ended a relationship and missed your ex-partner to the point of calling them to reconnect? Or have you ever decided to stop eating an unhealthy food but after a few days or weeks found yourself eating that food again? I know I’ve done both. It is helpful to anticipate that with any change, there is a possibility that there will be some setbacks or mishaps. It’s also helpful and healthy to create a list (call a friend, go for a walk, read, journal, listen to music, etc.) of things you can do when you have a desire to do something you said you weren’t going to do anymore. The other part of this stage is maintenance. Maintenance is important because most of us will have a setback, but the change we desire is still possible if we keep trying. Maintenance also helps us to apply what we’ve learned from our setback or multiple setbacks so that we can maintain the change we’ve started or created. For example, say you have a break-up, call your ex, hook-up with them and afterwards remember why you broke up with them in the first place. The next time you have a desire to call them, you’ll be able to reflect on the reasons why you left in the first place (they have different values, want something different than you need or treat you poorly or whatever the reason was) and you’ll be able to acknowledge that calling them is not the best idea and choose to keep doing something different. The more setbacks you have, the wiser and more resilient you may become because you’ll start to realize that the desire to do what you used to do in the past will eventually pass. Like I mentioned, setbacks should be expected. If you have a setback, learn from it and choose to do something different next time. The final stage is termination. Termination happens when you’ve hit that point where your efforts to create change have been successful, you haven’t had any setbacks for a while and you’ve been able to keep the change going without feeling the need to go back to life as it was before you made the change.
Remember that change is a process filled with many unexpected twists and turns but you can navigate them if you plan ahead for any obstacles you may face. If you’re creating change in your life, be gentle with yourself if you experience a setback, and remain determined to achieve whatever change you desire.
Photo by Adam Cao
Christina is a Psychotherapist in private practice in Oakland California.