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.