Art of Change
The "transtheoretical model" ( Prochaska and DiClemente, 1982) lays out a series
of stages that people pass through in their attempts to make changes in their lives: precontemplation, contemplation,
decision, action, relapse,
You start out not being aware of any problem at all. Then a seed of doubt is
planted. "Yeah, OK, maybe my boss (spouse/kid/parent/friend) has a point . .
." You go back and forth, maybe for a long time, thinking about it.
Thinking about what it would take to change this about yourself, maybe trying on the idea,
rejecting it, and so forth. The "transtheoretical model"'s genius is recognizing
this stage, that thinking about change "counts." Perhaps your
ambivalence reaches an excruciating point and you decide to try a change. You take
action, and it is likely that this action is not going to be enough to turn the ocean
liner around, so you relapse. You might go back to just thinking about it, or even
to precontemplation: "problem? what problem?" Or maybe you try again.
You can be moving through these stages back and forth and around, for years.
Pretty messy. That magical "maintenance" stage seems like an oasis in the
"Change your mind, change your culture, and let your body be."
This page is about how hard it is to change your mind. Change is not easy. Do you
expect yourself to "just do it"? If so, time to find out how people really
make changes . . . be prepared for it to be messy!
Where are you now?
Think about your most nagging issue. Is your next step one
of not doing something, or doing something? Remember "Grant me serenity
to accept what I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the
difference"? Is your task a challenge to accept something or a challenge to
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|Description of the stage:
||No conflict, no interest
between status quo and desire to change
||Conflict culminates in
intention to change
||An attempt to change is
||Most times the first
attempt doesnt last
||Sometimes the change is
integrated into ongoing life
|Activities of the person in this stage:
||"Denial" of a
problem that other people see
creating an identity, "trying it on"
||Telling people you are
ready to change, preparing for action
||Trying to change
||Falling back into previous
||Mostly steady steps to
keep resolving barriers as they come up, becomes easier over time
|What increases motivation at this stage:
||Presentation with factual
data about what is problematic to others, their concerns; this raises doubt
|Support and time for
noticing discrepancy, exploring risks and benefits of change or not, strengthening
|Helping yourself decide on
a course of action; obtaining concrete information for use in this specific situation
|Support and time for
taking action, anticipating the need to problem-solve
|Letting yourself progress
through the stages again, avoiding becoming demoralized, treating the relapse as
opportunity to learn
|Focusing on consistency,
which involves skills to come out of relapse and problem-solve how changing impacts life
|What does not increase motivation or may
||Being offered solutions
before you've decided theres a problem
"I don't have a problem")
|Identifying with one side
of the conflict rather than holding the tension: e.g., Nagging/criticism, OR meeting
concerns with arguing/
|Identifying as a
"good girl" - invoking too much approval from the outside for your own choice
about change; or undermining self-efficacy, e.g., self-disparagement
||Ditto (from left)
||Saying "I told you
so," regarding relapse as failure, underscoring your identity as someone who can't
||Giving only intermittent
effort or attention (not being consistent), capitulating to the hopelessness, feeling
you're not entitled to anything better
|Where are you now in the model with the
issue you identified?
|Examples of goals
for each stage
||Plan a time to get
feedback from a friend who is concerned about you
||Set aside 5 minutes a
day when you can think about the issue; or
"Poll" the different parts of yourself about
|Search the web for
resources devoted to the issue; or
a hotline to talk to a real person about what to do next
|OK, give it a whirl:
Take care of yourself a different way, and then write about how it felt
|When you start to
mentally beat yourself up, stop that thought with the thought that relapse is a valuable
opportunity to build "damage control" skills
||Come up with a list
of what has gotten in the way of being consistent with your change. Set aside 3
minutes every day to picture yourself practicing this change for the rest of your life.
Table based on the Transtheoretical Model by Prochaska and DiClemente, 1982.
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Commitment and Motivation:
How do you set goals you can reach?
- Figure out where you are in the process of
For example, don't try to take action if you are in
the thinking stage. (See "Examples of goals for each stage,
above) Instead, make your goal to set aside 5 minutes a day to think about the
- Make the goal a level easier than you think
you could achieve.
Now when you're thinking up goals you are in a
particular mindset, one that you will abandon as you re-enter daily life. Daily life
mindsets have to cope with competing demands, so go a notch lower than you think is ideal.
- Make the goal concrete enough
to tell whether you achieved it or not.
"Aspirational goals " like
"Accept my body" are too vague. How do you know when you are "there"?
Instead, make it something measurable, like, "Identify one true and positive
aspect of my body each day for a week."
- Try to identify the opinions of all parts of
yourself about this goal.
Sure, there's a "Miss Self-Improvement"
part of you who is in favor of change, but there may also be a snarling motorcycle chick
with a tattoo who will say you're just fine the way you are. Try on several hats (helmets?
tiaras?) and see what the change means from these different points of view, then let the
observing part of you see the big picture. Sort of like convening a focus group for one.
Is there enough of a consensus to proceed? Can the concerns of rebellious or doubting
parts of yourself be addressed?
- Think of making a change as
similar to learning a foreign language or a musical instrument.
It takes longer, is harder, and requires more
self-reflection than you think. Might as well budget it in. Plan to practice for months to
years before you have it mastered.
- Practice, practice, practice.
In light of all this effort, only attempt
changes that you can live with indefinitely, which improve the quality of your life. If
the change is worth it, you can stay motivated to keep coming back when it doesn't change
overnight or easily.
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