Spring is in the air and happily I left my hat and gloves behind as I stepped outside to walk my dog this week. Every year I find that the fresh air inspires new hope for what could be and that the thought of making personal or professional changes in my life feels less daunting than during the frigid winter. I know I am not the only one that spring affects in this way. Friends have been sharing their desire to make personal changes, such as eating better, exercising more, or improving the way they go about their work. Unfortunately, those conversations and the brief inspiration brought by the change in season often fails to move us to actually making a sustainable change. I could take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this struggle, or I could turn to Prochaska, a leading researcher on the topic of change to figure out how to get past contemplating change to real action.
In his book, Changing for Good, Dr. James Prochaska proposes six stages of change for overcoming bad habits and moving your life forward. From stage 1 - pre-contemplation to stage 6 - termination each step much be engaged. The authors explains, “A key to successful change is knowing what stage you are in for the problem at hand” (p39). Once you know which change stage you are in, you can take action to move to the next stage.
Tips for moving from one stage to the next:
1. PRE-CONTEMPLATION: Maybe you are unaware of various changes you need to make in your life or work. Seeking feedback from your boss, undergoing a 360 evaluation, or taking a professional assessment such as Strength Finders is a good place to start to uncover areas for improvement. Moving to the next stage requires becoming well informed on why the change is needed. Getting feedback might not always be enjoyable but true growth requires taking responsibility, thinking about the problem and using logical analysis to consider the change.
2. CONTEMPLATION: Once you become aware of the desired change, such as the need to expand your network – since research has shown that the more open your network the more successful your career will be - you can begin to find resources to do that and reflect on the barriers you may face. To move to the next stage seek emotional arousal for the issue (e.g. watching a motivational movie and reading an article or vividly imagine your change and its affects). Make a decision to change using rational pro’s/con’s.
3. PREPARE: After considering the change make it a priority, make an action plan, tell people about your decision, and counter your anxiety by taking small steps. Continuing with the example of building a better network, you might consider eating lunch with people from other departments or picking up a team project outside of your typical domain.
4. ACTION: Here is where the rubber meets the road. Find healthy responses to your inclinations to give up, control your environment (e.g. move the TV to the basement, uninstall that addictive app), reward yourself, and recruit support. The change might not happen overnight but celebrate the progress you achieve. Set milestones in your plan to reward yourself.
5. MAINTENANCE: The change is starting to take root. Avoid people and places that can compromise your change, review a list of benefits of making the change, be aware of occasional temptations and relapse events.
6. TERMINATION: Celebrate! Most changes require more than one attempt. You might not return to stage one but stick with it, acknowledge where you are in the process and work to move to the next stage.
What changes does spring inspire in you? What stage are you at in your change process?
Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C. & DiClemente, C.C. (1994). Changing for good. New York: Morrow. Released in paperback by Avon, 1995. (Hungarian 2009, Polish 2008, Hebrew 2006, Japanese 2005). ISBN: 0-380-72572-X.
Once in a while a news article or bit of information leaves me truly amazed. A pod cast by NPR’s Invisibilia, entitled How to Become Batman, did this for me just a few weeks ago. The podcast starts off with pretty big claims about the power of expectations. Scientific research has shown that what we THINK about a rat, whether it’s extra smart or dumb despite its actual average intelligence, impacts its performance of going through a maze. Crazy, right?! The program goes on to share that unspoken expectations not only effect rats but humans as well. Whether you like it or not the expectations others have of you actually impacts your ability to perform. The presenters of this podcast go so far as to say that expectations effects the ability of blind people to see. Yes, physically blind. Ridiculous, right? I entered as a skeptic as well. You have to listen to it for yourself to be amazed.
This information about the power of expectations is critical for managers, parents, and teachers everywhere. Do you feel like your employees can only go so far? What subtle messages are you sending them that is limiting their performance and ability to learn? What external expectations have you allowed to infiltrate the way that you think about yourself and your abilities?
Early in my career a professional coach visited my place of employment to share some simple, yet hugely helpful tools to assist the staff in maintaining productivity while the organization navigated some typical organizational turmoil. That’s when I learned about the Three Buckets of Control. Who knew that a simple tool and fresh perspective could not only alleviate immediate stress and help me increase my productivity, it would become one of my “go to” models for managing change in my personal life and one of my favorite tools I share with my clients in my own coaching practice several years later.
So what is the “Three Buckets” tool?
In its simplest form, the three buckets tool is a way of mentally categorizing the different situations and tasks faced in a given day.
Once you are aware of the contents in each bucket you have the option of determining which bucket you are going to focus on and how you will divide and spend your energy. If you aren’t mindful, bucket #3, that which you have no control over, can easily capture your attention resulting in feelings of powerlessness and anxiety.
Allow me to demonstrate how I use the three buckets in light of some change I’m currently facing …
For anyone who has walked with a family member or close friend through the process of becoming a physician, you’re aware of the ever important “MATCH DAY”. The day near the end of medical school when you receive a letter which tells you where the next three to seven years of your medical training will take place. For those not familiar with The Match, I’ve heard it described similarly to Greek life – you rank which fraternity (or residency program) you want to join, the fraternity (residency program) ranks the candidates they want, but in the end a computer uses an algorithm to determine which residency program you will attend. As the wife of a fourth year medical student my life is intrinsically tied up in The Match and I am fully aware that change is a coming. Here’s where the three buckets come into use. The match is typically a pretty stressful time for medical students and their families, and for people like myself who like love to plan, it’s even more annoying. I’ll admit that there have been days when I’ve fixated on the fact that I don’t know where in the country I will be living in the next three months but the reality is that if I want to thrive during this time of waiting for the impending change I need to consciously choose where I will focus my energy.
Bucket #3: I have no control over the ultimate match – we’re moving to where we match. I have no control over when we find out - I have to wait until March 20th just like every other medical student in the country.
Bucket #2: I have influence over our rank list. David and I have had many conversations on the pros and cons of the residency programs where he was invited to interview. Together we visited the different cities and discussed what would be best for his career and our family.
Bucket #1: Most importantly I have control over my attitude, how I spend my energy in the meantime, and what I think about the various potential places we could be moving.
Consciously considering the contents of each bucket, I can then focus the majority of my attention on bucket #1. I have chosen to find a positive about every location we might end up; of course I have my favorites but given that I don’t have control over the ultimate match, I am equipping myself with the positive no matter where we match. I have also decided to not fret away the ways till match. I have identified a number of projects that I want to work with my extra time, since once we match my time will probably be sucked up with packing and moving across the country. Change is rarely easy, especially when you have little or no control over the ultimate change. Using the three buckets tool doesn’t eliminate the question marks in my future, but it does reduce anxiety and help increase my productivity in the process.