If you’ve ever questioned whether you really can change – well, you can. After all, you’re not the same person you were ten years ago. An ideal goal is to be a better version of yourself every single day. Not because who you are now isn’t good enough, but because of all that you can be — and all that you need to be. The hope is that you’ll keep progressing forward, and that you’ll keep evolving.
Even so, change is difficult – and something that we all struggle with. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not an event – it’s a process.
The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change
We all have habits and traits we’d like to modify. At the same time, negative feelings such as fear and guilt keep us locked into those habits. Mental health professionals agree that positive thinking and practical goal-setting can lead to constructive change. As much as we’d like to think sheer willpower can push us through any transition, it can only get us so far. Lasting change is slow, reasonable and deliberate.
The most well-known theory of change used by healthcare professionals is the Transtheoretical Model (TTM). The model consists of 5 necessary steps: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. At any time, we are in one of these stages of change.
According to the theory, for successful and lasting change, each step is essential to move on to the next stage. Although the TTM model of change is typically used to change addictive behaviors, it applies to any behaviors you wish to change.
During the pre-contemplation stage, a person is not thinking about making the change just yet. Although there might be some awareness that they should make a change (“My temper always pushes people away, but that’s just how I am.”), there’s no effort made to look into making the change. They may even avoid thinking or talking about the behavior that needs to be modified.
To move through the pre-contemplation phase, you must accept that the behavior must change because it harms your life. The behavior is in the way of the good parts of your life (“My temper is ruining my marriage.”)
In the contemplation stage, the person is aware that their behavior is a problem. However, they remain uncommitted to making a change. Although they understand that making a change would be beneficial, they still go back and forth in their mind about the change. (“If I manage my anger, I won’t be who I am. Why should I change who I am? They should accept me.”)
To progress through this phase, it might help to make a list of the pros and cons of making a change. Examine the cons, see what your barriers are, and evaluate what it would take to overcome those barriers.
The preparation stage is when the action starts to happen. At this point, the person has accepted that they must change and begins to make plans. They take the first steps to initiate progress.
Preparation is planning. Set small, realistic goals. Make the goals detailed and time-sensitive so that you can check if you’re meeting them or not. (“For two days, I will take deep breaths before I speak to my husband when I am upset.”) It’s important to anticipate any problems that might occur. Start small and work your way up.
During the action phase, a person is actively executing the plans they set for themselves. While they’re working towards their goals, they’re bound to encounter challenges. The most difficult part of the action stage is adjusting to life without the old behavior.
To remain focused, engage in positive self-talk, and find outside support from family and friends. (“I’m trying to stop my angry outbursts because our relationship is important to me. Would you be able to help me do this?”
After about six months of meeting goals, a person is in the maintenance phase. For this phase, the goal switches from making the change to sustaining the change.
To maintain the change, you must avoid the triggers and activities that spark the old habits. To continue your hard work, you have to protect it. Create an environment that fosters your positive change rather than one that tests it.
Our Changing World
Adapting to changes in our environment (financial loss,