My own transformation, from a burned-out psychologist to a vibrant community volunteer, and ultimately to a calm and centered coach, took about 20 years. Sheesh! Based on my experience, and that of my clients I think it’s important to have a real talk about the stages of change.
Does that terrify you? I mean, who has 20 years to spend getting their sh*t together?
Well, here’s something that might be even scarier… I’m still changing! Yup. Newsflash!… Change is never complete. It’s never over. There is no finish line. There are, however, milestones along the way that make the journey totally worth it.
Whether you want to become a runner, learn to cook for your health, find your Zen through meditation, or just begin to spend more time away from your phone, lasting habits are built slowly and with mindful awareness. This is a process and I will try to break it down for you so you can get on with it. Won’t it be fun to see where you end up 20 years from now?
Change Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line
First things first… are you ready for change? Groundbreaking change expert, James Prochaska, developed The Transtheoretical Model (also called the Stages of Change Model for the stages of change that everyone cycles through when trying to start a new habit. The model takes you through 6 stages from Precontemplation (before you are even ready to think about change) all the way to Termination (when habits are so deeply rooted that you don’t even think about them anymore, they are just a part of you). Without giving you an entire dissertation about change here are some highlights:
Get this! There are 3 stages of change that occur even before you attempt to do anything differently!
These stages occur when you are just thinking about creating a new behavior, before that, just thinking about thinking about it, and, before that, not even thinking about it! Understand?
Now that you’re thinking about making that change its time to take action. Typically, you will cycle repeatedly back and forth between taking effective action and slipping back to the stage where we are just getting ready or just thinking about taking action. The experts describe it as a spiral (though I think its more like a game of pong), and, it is good news!
Each time you slip back the “slip” is usually not as far back as to where you started, and each time it becomes easier to move forward. So that’s terrific! Even though you rarely move smoothly from point A to point B, change gets easier over time and that’s promising!
Finally, you arrive at the 5th stage which Prochaska calls Maintenance which occurs sometime after AT LEAST 6 months of practicing your new habit. The idea that it takes 21 days to make a new habit is complete nonsense! Maintenance is the stage where you regularly practice your new habit, but it still takes thought, attention, and intention.
Now here is the most important part… most people stay at this maintenance stage forever. That’s right… you may ALWAYS have to be mindful of incorporating your new habit into your life. Therefore, it helps to be super clear about what you want that habit to look like in your life and how that new habit will serve you. This is your motivation to keep going.
The last stage is called Termination, and this is the stage in which your new habit is SO much a part of your routine that you no longer think about it and you will never slip back into old patterns. Again… most people never get to this stage. The important point about that is to be kind to yourself when you might slip back a little, or when after 10 years of regularly exercising, you still have to talk yourself out of bed and into your gym shoes every morning. This is normal.
- Start by identifying what new habit you’d like to incorporate into your life.
- Get clear about how this new habit will make your life better.
- Ask yourself the following: On a scale from 1-10 how important is this change to me? And then, on a scale from 1-10, how ready am I to make the effort needed to incorporate this change into my life?
- Note: If you are at a 7 or higher for BOTH of these questions you are ready to start making a new habit.
- Start small.
- Schedule reminders.
- Keep everything you need at the ready.
- Tell everyone you know that you are making these changes.
If you are truly ready to make some changes you won’t mind sharing your plans with the universe. Then, start! Baby steps. Keep at it. Congratulate yourself every step of the way. And, finally, be prepared to slip back into old patterns when things in your life make it harder to follow through. It’s okay! Start again. Remember, the more you keep at it the easier it gets. And the payoff? Well, that is how amazing you will feel from the accomplishment and from the new and improved you.
Click here for this great article that may help you navigate the changes that you want in your life.
I am Lauren Weinberg, a Nationally Board-Certified Integrative Health Coach trained by Duke University’s Department of Integrative Medicine. Originally a counseling psychologist, for which I studied at the University of Pennsylvania, I am following my passion to help people become their happiest and healthiest selves by looking forward to how they want to live their lives and to support the behavior changes they will make to get there.
With a whole-person approach to wellness, I believe that a healthy life is multi-dimensional and ever-evolving. Kindness toward ourselves and others, deep satisfaction with work and relationships, caretaking of our bodies and minds, and a sense of connection outside of ourselves can all be a part of helping us achieve well-being and happiness. Whatever your focus, I will help with an open heart, a playful spirit, and deep compassion for your personal journey.
As a working woman, a wife of a busy professional, a mom of two “almost grown” young adults, and a chronic community volunteer, I know what it takes to fit wellness into a hectic schedule. To be perfectly honest… learning to prioritize my own health and wellness was a journey that took years! When I was finding my way I had never heard of “health coaching!” So take comfort in knowing that I understand the challenges in making life changes even when we know it is truly important to do so. I will walk with you every step of the way.