Change is inherent in life. Everything is in motion. Everything is transformed. Continuously. But sometimes we get stuck in one of the stages of change. We retreat, have the same experiences and reproduce the same conflicts, so we get trapped in a tangle of negative emotions such as fear, anger, guilt, distress or insecurity.
Other times we develop a strong resistance to change. We cling to the past, the known and refuse to move forward and evolve. Why is it so difficult to change? James Prochaska's Trans-Theoretical Behavior Change Model explains this.
When our idea of change prevents us from moving forward
Prochaska suggests that we cannot move forward due to our perception of change. The change in behavior and attitude does not depend on a single event, as we usually think, but occurs gradually over time.
We go through several stages of personal change before giving up old habits and ways of thinking. The progression is usually not linear. We tend to move back and forth through the different stages of change. Sometimes we analyze them several times, until the change is fully consolidated.
Knowing the stages of personal change will allow us to identify which of these we are in, to better understand our position in the process. It will also help us keep motivated and set the right goals to move on to the next stage.
The 6 stages of personal change that we all go through
In the first phase of the change, the first doubts assail us. We begin to suspect that there is a problem, even if we do not know very well what it is. In fact, we can go through a phase of denial in which we are aware that we need to change something, but we refuse to recognize the root of the problem.
It is also possible that we are aware of the necessary change in behavior, attitude or way of thinking, but we are not yet ready or willing to make it happen. It is a phase in which there is no full awareness of the problems.
It is likely that we are not fully aware of the consequences of our behaviors or do not have enough information. For this reason, to move on to the next stage, we must find a motivation for the change, analyze the benefits that this will bring us.
We can ask ourselves: Have I ever tried to change this behavior? What should happen to consider behavior problematic? If I continue on this path, is it likely to happen? What will I get from the change?
At this stage of personal change we develop a greater understanding and awareness of the behavior, attitude or way of thinking we want to change. We recognize the problem and start looking for solutions.
This can be a particularly difficult and frustrating phase of change because it is accompanied by a high degree of uncertainty. In fact, we can spend a lot of time in this phase because we develop an ambivalent posture: although we are aware of the benefits of change, we also see the sacrifices and costs that this entails.
Other times we don't have the psychological tools necessary to deal with change. We are not ready to commit ourselves to the transformation. So we can get stuck in this phase, feeling helpless.
To move forward we can make a rational analysis of the pros and cons of change, aware that to advance in life, we must always get rid of the ballast. We must ask ourselves what benefits the change will bring us and if the costs are too high, try to find alternative ways that minimize the sacrifices.
When we enter the preparation phase we are ready to commit to change and we intend to do so immediately. Let's start taking small steps towards transformation, such as starting to learn what we can do or seek professional help.
This phase of change is decisive for progress. If we explore our possibilities, plan and make informed decisions, we are more likely to advance more easily and be able to implement change.
At this stage it is important to project ourselves into the future and imagine the obstacles that could arise, in order to establish alternative action plans that allow us to continue moving forward. It is also essential to set realistic goals that we can achieve so as to avoid discouragement. If we share our goals with others, especially those who have a certain authority or status, we will be more likely to change, as evidenced by a study conducted at Ohio State University.
At this stage of personal change we take action. We begin to implement our plans to achieve the desired change. We adapt our routines, relationships or environments to achieve our goals.
In this phase, greater compromise and an iron will is required to be able to be systematic. Generally, we enter this phase with a lot of motivation, but as the days go by this decreases.
We will also begin to encounter the first obstacles. It may be that people give us negative feedback or the environment in which we move does not encourage us to change, but keeps us connected to the past.
To move on to the next stage of personal change, we need to remember the reasons that have brought us this far. We need to focus on the benefits of change and try to reward ourselves along the way.
At this stage of change we realize that we can do it. Initial behaviors start to become habits, so getting back to the old routine is more difficult.
It is through this phase that we work to consolidate change in the long term because there is still the possibility of falling back into old behaviors and returning to previous phases. So it's important not to let your guard down.
It is worth remembering the obstacles we have overcome because it will give us strength and make us feel more energetic. We can also reflect on the mistakes we have made to avoid them in the future. And we can ask ourselves how to keep improving.
Relapses are like an ever-present ghost alongside change. In fact they are quite common. When we go back we can feel failed, disappointed and frustrated because we feel that all efforts have been in vain. Even if that's not the case.
All the progress made has made us stronger and has become a source of experience. We must avoid over-complaining because we would end up hating ourselves. Punishing us is useless.
Instead, we need to activate a conscious reflection mechanism to spot mistakes and try to correct them so we don't trip over the same stone twice. We need to ask ourselves what caused the relapse and what we can do from then on to prevent it from happening again in the future.
In any case, we must remember that changes do not happen in a linear fashion. Old habits always await a favorable opportunity to return. This is part of the growth path. If at any point we find ourselves stuck between the different phases, we can take it as a signal to stop along the way, do an exercise in introspection and learn more about ourselves.