“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu

“Life belongs to the living and he who lives must be prepared for changes”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Change is the end result of all true learning.”
― Leo Buscaglia

The only sure thing in life is change. How come so many of us have such a problem with change? It occurs naturally, yet we continually fight it. One of the most frustrating things for me is when I know I need to change something; I know what changes need to take place, yet I still don’t do anything about it.

A good place to start would be to explain the stages of change developed by Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska.

Precontemplation
Individuals in the precontemplation stage of change are not even thinking about changing their behavior. They are not even aware that change needs to take place.

Contemplation
Individuals in the contemplation stage of change are willing to consider that change needs to happen, and the possibility offers hope for change. However, people who are contemplating change are often highly ambivalent. They are on the fence. Contemplation is not a commitment or a decision to change. People at this stage are often quite interested in learning and gathering information about the change.

In the contemplation stage, people look at risk and rewards. They consider the pros and cons of their behavior and the pros and cons of change. They think about the previous attempts they have made to change and what has caused failure or success in the past.

Determination
Deciding to change is the benchmark of the determination stage. All the pros and cons, all the risk-rewards, are finally tipping the balance in favor of change. Not all ambivalence has been resolved, but ambivalence no longer seems unattainable to change. Most individuals in this stage will make a serious attempt to change in the near future.

Action
Individuals in this stage of change put their plan into action. This stage typically involves making some form of commitment–public or private–to change in order to get external or internal confirmation of the plan. Making a public commitment helps people obtain the support they need to change. People often find it very helpful to know that others are watching and cheering them on. The action stage normally takes three to six months to complete.

Maintenance
Change requires building a new pattern of behavior over time. The real test of change is long-term sustained change over many years. This stage of successful change is called “maintenance.” In this stage, the change has become firmly established.

When I think about change, I feel deep down it’s a blow to ego or self-esteem. We are saying to ourselves that something is not right and needs some action. At a gut level, we defend against this and hunker down in our comfort zone, even if our comfort zone may not be a pleasant place. The first step is awareness, and this is where change starts: reframing what we say to ourselves and others in positive ways. Starting out with behaviors and taking small, simple, specific steps is a great place to start.

Here are the Top 10 Mistakes about change according to Stanford University:

  • Relying on willpower for long term change. (* What we should do is imagine that willpower doesn’t exist)
  • Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps. (* Seek tiny successes…one after another)
  • Ignoring how environment shapes behaviors. (* Change your context and change your life)
  • Trying to stop old behaviors instead of creating new ones.  (* Focus on action, not avoidance)
  • Blaming failures on lack of motivation. (* Solution: make the behavior easier to do)
  • Understanding the power of triggers. (* No behavior happens without a trigger)
  • Believing that information leads to action. (* We humans aren’t so rational)
  • Focusing on abstract goals more than the concrete behaviors. (* Abstract: get in shape vs. Concrete: Walk 15 minutes today)
  • Seeking to change a behavior forever, not for a short time. (* A fixed period works better than forever)
  • Assuming behavior change is difficult. (* Behavior change is not so hard, when you have the right process)

*Corrective behavior or thinking

A quick example how this applies to me: I probably have 20 books on my nightstand that I am reading or want to read. I could say that I will read all of the books on my nightstand in 2014 and that would be a goal. Instead, I am going to try to read for 15 minutes each night. The latter is small and instills a habit that I want to acquire, whereas a goal, once completed, allows you to stop or beat yourself up for not completing it.

So as the New Year starts, I have decided not make any resolutions. What I am going to do is sit in quiet reflection and pay attention to what I need to be aware of. With awareness, I can then move in the direction of change. After I contemplate the change, I can then make plans to incorporate it. My plans for change will be small and doable behaviors. I will be compassionate with myself and flexible in my change. I know that fear will keep me stuck and try to hold me back as a new awareness emerges. I know the voices in my head will tell me how hard change is and that it would be easier to do nothing. But, I also know that change is the only thing in life that is constant and it is a lot less painful to embrace it than oppose it.

I wish you peace, awareness, and change for the New Year.

Kirk Johnson is a licensed professional counselor and addictions counselor at Maria Droste Counseling Center. He also has a treatment center in Black Hawk, CO and teaches at Regis University. His passion is helping people realize their full potential.

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If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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by Kirk Johnson, MA, LPC, LAC