Which Stage of Change Are You In?

Can you identify which stage of change you are in? Can you hold space for yourself with grace and compassion as you work to change your behavior, thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes? Can you be kind to others as they work the change process in their own lives?

Pre-contemplation – I am not thinking about changing at all, I see no problems, and I do not need to change anything right now.

Contemplation – something needs to shift, I might not know exactly what or how to make it happen but I know I need to do something. 

Preparation – I know what needs to change and I know what I need to do to get things started. I am seeking support and the items I need to be successful in my new change (i.e. getting the gym membership and new shoes, buying the right foods for my meal plan, finding a 12-step sponsor)

Action – I’m working on taking the steps that need to change. I am in the grind of changing my life for the better. I am focused on the daily steps to make my goal come true. 

Maintenance  – I’m doing it! I have changed my behavior, perspective, and my life. Now it is about sticking to my goals and keeping my eye on the prize for the long term. 

Sometimes relapse back to our old behaviors and attitudes happens. Work to get back on track as quickly as possible. It is not in never having a relapse but in how quickly we return to our more healthy focus that we want to measure our success. How quick do we recognize, stop the old behavior or thoughts, and return to the path of our goal? That’s the true measure of success for us. 

Overall, remember that change is hard. It can be challenging and moment to moment changes on the path. Your goal is to keep your eye on the prize!

Need more? Read Monday’s article on 3 steps to making change happen in your life here.

Photo credit: Social Work Tech

Working with Ambivalence … the parts of you that want to change & the parts that don’t.

Ever wonder why it is so hard to make big changes … or even small ones for that matter? It is often because we have what is known as ambivalence. This concept that part of us wants to change and part of us does not. We have a small war going on inside ourselves between the factions of staying the same and playing it safe and the part of us that wants something new and different … aka not as safe. Below are 3 ways to work with your own ambivalence and get those changes to take hold for good.

As you consider what you would like to change in your life, pay attention to what you do not like, what you want to be different, allow yourself time to reflect and feel into the changes, then take informed and inspired action. Read on to work on finding the next right step for you.

Stage 1:

When we consider making changes it is important to think about what we do not like, however not dwell here. This stage is just about getting clear about what we do want. This stages sets the scene for us to find what we do want by examining what we do not want. When we are in this stage we often do not feel comfortable, we may feel like we are the victim, that we are on the wrong path, or just bored and tired of the same ol’ same old thing. This stage is an opportunity to decide. It is the point that we begin to see what is not working. 

It is here that we might find it is time to stop drinking/using substances or other unhealthy coping skill because we feel so awful after a night or two of our use. It is here that we might feel uncomfortable thinking, talking, acting like our “old” self because we have new knowledge, insight, or awareness. It is here that we realize that working out was giving us more than just weight loss because we missed the emotional high by missing our movement practice this morning. 

This video explains how to work with ambivalence using the Trans-theoretical Model of Change and stages of change.

Action point for this stage – Get clear on what you do not like. Reflect on why you do not like it – not to judge and keep yourself down, but to objectively determine what is not working for you. You might see that your behavior is not the kind of person you want to be any more. I see this a lot with people who used to use racist or sexist jokes without realizing the impact. Now they know the impact and do not want to be that kind of person any more, but are working to figure out how to engage people with different humor. From this point of knowing what we do not want we can begin to decide what we do want. 

Stage 2:

Now that you have a clear picture about what you do not want any longer, it is time to vision what you do want. This is a very important stage. It is here that you actually make things happen. So many people want to brush past this stage in effort of action, because action feels better, yet action too quickly can create more work in the end. In this stage spend some time developing what you do want. 

As you get clear on what you do not want – usually does not take us too long to do – we want to get very clear on what we do want. Why do we want to quit using substances? What is the benefit of a new eating plan? Why behave differently? As you vision your new life options, it is important to feel how you will feel when you get the new life you want. In this stage, do not worry about how you will get it. Just feel how good it will feel when you are successful. Drink in the sweet feelings of your goals, successes, and dreams. 

Many people feel this is so whoo – whoo, but here is what is behind it. Science. We are chemical (hormones / neurotransmitters), electrical (heart rate, facia, brain, neuron communications) , vibrational beings (atoms and molecular structure). Every thought, emotion, and action we have creates a change in those 3 things. As those changes take place – yes through your thinking and feeling and eventually doing – you are changing the way your cells communicate with each other. Our cells use proteins to adapt to the environment around us and are always changing. As these proteins shift and change we have a different experience. Experiences change our brain structures and impact other physical structures like organs, tissues, and internal communication patterns. These changes create our internal environment. This can be helpful and supportive or hostile and forbidding. 

For example as you consider a stressful event your inflammation rate rises, your breathing may shift into more upper lobe exposure, less deep breathing, and your heart rate will then quicken. This change in what is known as your heart rate variability (HRV) is tied to your nervous system. 

As your HRV quickens, your sympathetic nervous system revs up, getting ready for a fight, to flee, or go into hypo arousal and keep you alive. All this, just while you think about that fight with your partner, that near miss car accident, the trauma you lived through as a kid, or your big work project. These thoughts are impacting how your body responds. This is not just about the way you think. It is also about the way you feel, as your emotions and actions also create changes in the physical body. It does not matter where you enter the square, everything is always impacting everything. We are holistic systems, not linear cause and effect systems. 

Overlapping Psychological and Locomotor Development
This is a model of the holistic nature of our experiences I created for a presentation I gave on the overlapping nature of our psychological and physical systems.

Whether is psychological or physical they impact each other. It does not matter where we start the process – in our minds or in our bodies – we cannot pull apart the intersecting experience. The heart rate variability is the link between the mental and physical world. we can control it to change our perception of our experiences. (Reuille-Dupont, 2018)

Now that you have a better understanding of why thinking and feeling matter to the physical structure of you, it is time to make action happen. 

Action Step for This Stage: Create a vision board, write a story about the new you/life/dream as though it has already happened, and mediate, mediate, mediate. Mediation shifts our brain waves and allows us to be more receptive to solutions and next steps we need to take. We have to let go of our own thinking and doing around the change before we can get really clear about what we need to do next. Mediation clears that space for us in as little as 5, 10, 15 minutes a day. Do not skip this activity. Read more on the importance of reflective time and accomplishing goals.

Stage 3:

Hopefully, you have spent some time sitting with what you do not like, then working on what you do want. Now it is time to act. It is important to take INFORMED action. This is something I see go sideways in lots of folks, myself included – they get antsy for action and impulsively move instead of be deliberate about the next steps. This means they often miss the most simple option and skip around … leading to longer accomplishment timing. 

Ambivalence in change is uncomfortable. It is hard to sit with. There is a part of you so sure of the changes you want to make, yet there is also a part of you so scared about the changes you are about to make. There is part of you that can see clearly how much better the new way will be, and there is a part of you sad to let the old way go. As we honor both of those spaces we want to make sure we allow both to be true. This helps settle our discomfort. Once we can process our struggle we are often ready for action.

For example, the change may be quit using substances, yet your culture is full of people using your substance of choice. It may not be easy to leave them all behind today or even completely quit your substance today (sometimes this is even dangerous), but it might be doable to find a 12-step group, reach out to a sober friend, see your therapist or get one, get to the hospital, or buy a book/find an online community to help you stick to your goal of being sober (or more sober) today. We are just looking for the next step right now. Once that one is taken, we can take the next one, and the next, and next until you have multiple days, months, years sober from that substance. 

Stage 3 Action Step: Since you have already set up so much and gotten so ready by creating a vision for your future self, feeling your success and accomplishment as though it has already happened, and mediated to get clear about what you next step needs to be … just take that step. Just the next one to be most effective. It does not have be big, does not have to accomplish the end goal completely yet, you are in process, and it does not have to be overwhelming. It just has to be the next right step for this moment. The one we are in, not the one you wish you were in, want to be in, or would rather be in. Just the one you are really in. Informed action makes each moment easier and they build upon each other, little by little, like building blocks building the tower … one at a time, step by step. 

Focus on What Works

Today focus on what you want and ignore all those things you do not want.

Do not waste your energy focused on what is not working.

Note the problem, create a solution, and move in the direction you want to go. Do not look back. What is done, is done. Just move forward.

Yesterday is done … Keep your sights on today.

So many get hung up on what happened yesterday, last month, last year, 10,20,50 years ago. They spend their energy focused on what went wrong. Instead focus on what is going right. Focus on on what you want. Spend your time creating a life you love, want, and desire instead of focusing on what is not working in your life, with people around you, or in the world. Spend your energy wisely.

Perception. Everything hinges on how you think

Our thinking determines our focus. Take 2 people in a horrific situation and they can have 2 very different perceptions of the experience. You control how you respond to any given moment in your life – good, bad, wanted, or unwanted – you are in control of your perception. If you shift your perception you have the opportunity to change how you experience the situation. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, want it, approve of it, agree with it – just means it is the one you are are in and you are controlling the way you show up to deal with it.

Dealing with Pain

Pain is bi-directional it runs from the body to the mind or the mind to the body. We can interrupt these signals and you will not feel as much or any pain. In a meta-analysis of studies examining how our brains register pain Apkarian, Bushness, Treede, and Zubieta (2004) found evidence for using distraction as a non-medical pain management treatment. Participants in the studies reviewed had decreased rates of pain when distracted in a variety of activities (activities were dependent on study performed). 

If you are a person who lives with chronic pain what methods have you employed to help yourself shift perspective, accept, and create a life that meets your needs now? So many who experience chronic pain feel dejected, disappointed, and angered when medical treatments fail, and they are unable to reduce their pain with pharmaceuticals. Pills are estimated to be about 40% effective with pain states (Turk and Winter, 2014). They are miracles for certain types of pain and negligible for others. If you are someone who has hit a wall with medical treatments, are tired of the side effects (drowsiness, lack of engagement, constipation, stomach/digestive issues, brain fog/cognitive decline) it may be time to look into options for non-medical pain management supports. 

Many find relief using a combination of treatment models, acceptance, and perception change. Psychological treatments can be helpful in these areas. They can support the medical prescriptions while supporting behavioral changes, processing the grief and loss the pain has created, and help build a new paradigm for successful living with the physical changes. 

Psychological Pain Management

Pain is an interesting signal. It is here to help us pay attention. Sometimes our signals get crossed. We find pain in situations that are not physical, yet feel physically painful – the broken heart, gut response, or goosebumps rising. Physical and emotional pain run on the same circuits and there are a variety of options for treating it. Use your mind to help your body. Seek psychological treatment for chronic pain states.

Stand Tall on the Changes You are Making

Are working hard to make life changes only to feel defeated by those around you or yourself? It may be time to look beneath the surface of the change process and find the deeper meaning in the struggle.

For each obstacle from Thursday’s change plan worksheet consider 2-3 options for coping with each on the way to your goal.

Maybe it is changing location, moving away from particular people at a party, going a new way to work, having dinner at a different time, saying a particular phrase, etc. There are many ways to address and deal with your challenges – and they will come up. So plan to meet them with grace and confidence.  

The Spirituality of Change

This brings an aspect of living your essence and spirituality. As you work on changing, you must face yourself – sometimes this is the hardest person to face. You must take an honest look at who you are and who you want to be. Then do the difficult work of change. Through this process we often find parts of ourselves we do not like, want around, or understand. It is in facing these aspects of our being that we become a better version of ourselves. If you find yourself lost in the struggle, it may be worth finding a support system for your change process – a group, class, or therapist to help you navigate the steps and set you up for the best possible results.

Finding your voice

Sometimes explaining your desire to change to others is hard. Sometimes they work against you – like crabs in a bucket, pulling you back into old patterns and behaviors. Remember, you do not have to explain your changes to anyone else. You do not have to justify your new behaviors or work to get the to understand your reasons, purpose, or dreams. Your change is all about you and you can chose who to share it with and when.

A few simple statements go a long way, like:

  • I’m the DD tonight
  • I am working on a new fitness plan
  • I am trying a new meal plan out
  • I am working on shifting my sleeping pattern
  • I’ve been reading about _____, and I want to try some of the suggestions
  • I have a friend who did ____, I am hoping to have similar results
  • I noticed I feel better when I do _____

You can create all sorts of simple statements that give enough information but do not require you explain or rationalize your new behaviors. Just make sure you are creating statements you can back up if they ask later – i.e. if you are telling people you are working on training for a race, you might want to make sure you are planning to run a race. When people ask how’s the racing going you don’t want to be “aaaaaahhhh …” and stumble trying to make something up on the spot.

In the end, relax into the change process, enjoy the ride, find yourself, and become a better version of you. It is here you find your spirit and strengthen your soul.

Make Yourself More Happy … Turn the other cheek

Think you have to meet violence with more violence – physical, emotional, or spoken? Think again. By using effective communication skills and the art of grace, you can be happier regardless of how the people around you are acting. Practice finding the light in everyone you meet today.

Turn the other cheek is something many of us have been taught as we grew up in a society that works to have moral rules, laws, and structure.

Today give someone the benefit of the doubt. Offer them grace as you find yourself frustrated, stressed, annoyed, or irritated by another person or situation. Look for the light in the situation and in the other people involved.

If this is hard re-read last week’s conversation on communication here