Change. It starts with YOU.

Hey guys,

People frequently want to change something in their lives. Maybe you’ve gained a lot of weight, or have been struggling with a bad habit like smoking or drugs. Other people have had enough of certain relationships that have become toxic, or they have emotional issues that have made them miserable for years.  The question I  have is:

If we want to change our lives so badly, why can’t we just do it, and transform into the person we want to be?

The simple fact is that lasting change is possible. I’m living proof. But it’s only after you realize the emotional, mental, and physical steps that you will need to take first, can you hope to succeed. You need the commitment towards the idea of actually changing, and follow it through with all every ounce of effort possible, knowing that when you succeed it will be better for your health and well being. But if you get to understand how it works before starting your journey towards change, it multiplies your chances of success.

Naturally, there will be barriers to overcome before you embark on the change process. As adults, many of us fear life changes and the uncertainty it brings. But understanding and analyzing fear is the first step towards dissolving it. When you aren’t scared anymore, the idea of changing suddenly becomes much more appealing.
Often, we find that problem behaviors are rooted in the messages we got from our parents as children. Our patterns are the remains of our old ways of coping that might have served us well as children, but as adults, they’ve turned into an endless loop of negativity:

I’m too weak to quit smoking, or, I’m already so unattractive, what’s the point of trying to lose weight?

Sometimes we feel trapped in our behavior, perhaps with a partner that is resistant to the idea. Or maybe it’s just hard to picture ourselves without the problem behavior. I often tell people who feel hopeless about changing, that they can do it — but only when they are ready to commit and do the work to prepare for the obstacles they will encounter along the way. Because let’s face it we all fall a few times before we learn how to walk.

Failing is a good thing. Sometimes.

On New Year’s Day, so many people resolve to change something about their lives. They start off strong, but as March approaches, many begin to lose momentum, quietly dismissing their well-intentioned resolutions. This happens a lot to those who try to quit smoking — which isn’t just a bad behavior, but also an addiction. Smokers want to stop, but they often fall off the wagon quickly and feel like giving up altogether.

But what I have realized is that the most successful changers are the ones who have failed several times already. It’s the willingness to keep trying — persistence — is a common trait of successful changers.  Some people think that all they need to do is to muster enough willpower to change. The reality is, at any given time, only 20 percent of us are truly prepared to take action toward changing.

No amount of willpower can help if you’re not genuinely ready to change.

A key element for success is staying optimistic which can be hard — or even impossible — to do unless you have support. Support is certainly one of the “secrets” of success, and the research bears this out. If a hundred people try to quit smoking, chances are that only five will actually succeed if they quit on their own, cold turkey. But that number shoots up to 20, if the quitters have someone to counsel them and offer additional strategies and support.

Sense of urgency

When you’ve lived with unhealthy behavior, it’s easy to become complacent. We might think, What’s the big deal? Everything’s fine just like it is. And you can go on thinking that way for a long time — until a major event forces you out of your comfort zone. If you want to lose weight, it may be a heart attack that finally gets your attention, or the realization that you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without being short of breath. My mother quit smoking after many years. She’d known about smoking’s health risks, but the “sudden” decision to quit finally came when she sat at her mother’s bedside, watching her die of lung cancer.

My best friend stayed in a toxic relationship because the good times were pretty damn good. But the bad times we so gut wrenching, that it made want to grab him by the neck for treating her with such disdain and disrespect. But I didn’t because she had to come to this realization herself. She had to want to make that change. All the advice others gave her would never matter until she was ready for it to happen. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in it, that we can’t imagine anything ever being any different.

Some people need a “last straw” type of thing to propels them into taking those tentative first steps toward making that change. It’s our job as friends to support them.

Starting the journey

Change is inevitable. It’s the one true constant we all learn in life. But the revelation comes when we are able to embrace change — instead of resisting it, which helps ease your transition into new behaviors. Making a change is a courageous act, more so if it affects other people, but just knowing you need to change is actually the first step.

Big life changes occur in stages, over time, as part of an ongoing process that can ebb and flow like life itself.

Change is a process that sometimes requires us to take a step back before we move forward. Changing involves us totally which is why planning for it can help push us through the rough times as you evolve into the person you hope to be.

The steps towards change.

For me it was when I read Changing for Good by James Prochaska, PHD. It was a report on the experiences of successful self-changers. They found that the stages of change are actually universal and clear, but it’s that you cannot control how quickly you move through the stages, and you most certainly cannot skip any of them. No exceptions. No excuses.

1. Precontemplation: Problem? What problem?
When you are still resistant to the concept of changing, and could be deeply in denial, even as those around you are able to see your problem easily. It’s common for people to stay in this stage for long periods.

2. Contemplation: Thinking about it.
When you begin to acknowledge the problem and accept that change is in your future, perhaps prodded by another person. People often go back and forth between pre-contemplation and contemplation. It can be an integral part of the process as you get ready to take on the responsibility for changing.

3. Preparation: Getting your shit together
When you begin to widen your thinking about all the things you need to do to make your change. If you are going to quit smoking, perhaps you “go public” with your goal and throw away your secret stash of cigarettes.

4. Action: Diving in headfirst
Now this is by far the most exciting stage, though you may be nervous about moving forward. Action is often confused with actual change — which, surprisingly, comes much later. I find that it takes about 45 days to change a habit so start by working on one or two things at a time, so you don’t get too overwhelmed. You’ll find as time passes, it gets easier and that gives you more confidence to keep going.

5. Maintenance: Living with the changes
This stage is usually overlooked, and that’s a mistake. Maintenance is the act of living with your changes and practicing your new behaviors every single day. Sure you’ll hit some rough patches that may last for days, weeks, or even months — maybe even longer. But with the right support, you really can avoid going back to your old ways.  Choose people who are consistent and strong, but don’t push you, nag you, or enable you as you work through it. The most important qualities for supporters are warmth and empathy.

6. Recycling: Staying vigilant.
Now at this point, you are free and clear of your old behavior, and never find yourself tempted to revert. Warning: for many people, this stage never really arrives, and they stay in maintenance. Some relapse years later. You need to keep nurturing the delicate balance you’ve created. This is real change, however tentative it might feel.

And always remember that relapsing is the rule, not the exception. Your old behavior will continue to entice you for a while. Even if you relapse, it’s just a matter of returning to your new “normal” after a setback. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail. Because every time you fail and try again takes you one step closer to actual success.

You can do it. Just don’t forget to lean on the right people because no one can make real sustainable change on their own.

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