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The Art of Change

"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!

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, and maintenance.   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 distance. 

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 change something?

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Contemplation Decision Action Relapse Maintenance
Description of the stage: No conflict, no interest in change Increasing conflict between status quo and desire to change Conflict culminates in intention to change An attempt to change is made Most times the first attempt doesn’t last Sometimes the change is integrated into ongoing life
Activities of the person in this stage: "Denial" of a problem that other people see Information gathering, creating an identity, "trying it on" Telling people you are ready to change, preparing for action Trying to change Falling back into previous behavior 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 self-efficacy


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 increase resistance: Being offered solutions before you've decided there’s a problem

(creates defensiveness:
"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 change 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 the issue

Search the web for resources devoted to the issue; or

Call 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 change.
    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 issue.
  • 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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The Body Positive Dancer

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Last updated: March 05, 2011.