My own transformation, from burned out psychologist to vibrant community volunteer, and ultimately to calm and centered coach, took about 20 years in the making. Sheesh! Does that terrify you? I mean, who has 20 years to spend getting their sh*t together? Well, here’s something that might be even scarier… I’m still changing! Yup. Because, newsflash!... Change is never complete. It’s never over. There is no finish line. There are, however, milestones along the way that make the journey totally worth it.
Whether you are looking to become a runner, or learn to cook for your health, find your Zen through meditation, or just begin to spend more time away from your phone, lasting habits are built slowly and with mindful awareness. This is a process and I will try to break it down for you so you can get on with it. Won’t it be fun to see where you end up 20 years from now?
Change Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line
First things first… are you ready for change? Groundbreaking change expert, James Prochaska, developed a model for the stages of change that everyone cycles through when trying to start a new habit. The model takes us through 6 stages from Precontemplation (before we are even ready to think about change) all the way to Termination (when habits are so deeply rooted that we don’t even think about them anymore, they are just a part of us). Without giving you an entire dissertation about change here are some highlights:
There are 3 stages of change that occur before we even attempt to do anything differently! These are the stages where we are just thinking about creating a new behavior, or before that, just thinking about thinking about it, and not even thinking about it! Then, after we begin to take Action (stage 4), we cycle repeatedly back and forth between taking effective action and slipping back to the stage where we are just getting ready or just thinking about taking action. This is described as a spiral, and, it is good news! Each time we slip back it’s usually not as far back as we were when we started, and it becomes easier and easier to get ourselves to move forward. So that’s terrific! Even though we rarely move smoothly from point A to point B, change gets easier over time.
Finally, we arrive at a stage, the 5th, called Maintenance. This occurs sometime after AT LEAST 6 months of practicing our new habit. Never mind that 21 days to make a new habit nonsense. Maintenance is the stage where we regularly practice our new habit, but it still takes thought, attention, and intention. Now here is the most important part… most people stay at this maintenance stage forever. That’s right… you may ALWAYS have to be mindful of incorporating your new habit into your life. Therefore, it helps to be really clear about what you want that habit to look like in your life and how that new habit will serve you. This is your motivation to keep going.
The last of Prochaska’s stages is called Termination, and this is the stage where your new habit is SO much a part of your routine that you no longer think about it and you will never slip back into old patterns. Again… most people never get to this stage. The important point about that is to be kind to yourself when you might slip back a little, or, when after 10 years of regularly exercising, you still have to talk yourself out of bed and into your gym shoes. This is normal.
Start by identifying what new habit you’d like to incorporate into your life. Get clear about how this new habit will make your life better. Ask yourself the following: On a scale from 1-10 how important is this change to me? And then, On a scale from 1-10, how ready am I to make the effort needed to incorporate this change into my life? If you are at a 7 or higher for BOTH of these questions you are ready to start making a new habit. Start small. Schedule reminders. Keep everything you need at the ready. Tell everyone you know that you are making these changes. Shout if from the rooftops so you are more likely to follow through just to save face! If you are truly ready to make some changes you won’t mind sharing your plans with the universe. Then, start! Baby steps. Keep at it. Congratulate yourself every step of the way. And, finally, be prepared to slip back into old patterns when things in your life make it harder to follow through. It’s okay! Start again.
Remember, the more you keep at it the easier it gets. And the payoff? Well, that is how amazing you will feel from the accomplishment and from the new and improved you.