Becoming a Different Person
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Many of us think about changes we’d like to make in our lives. When it comes
to recommendations, we mostly know the drill: Yet making changes is easier
said than done. Even when we’re strongly motivated, adopting a new, habit —
or breaking an old, bad one — can be terribly difficult.
Considerable research has been aimed at identifying factors that contribute
to successful lifestyle change. One problem may be that we’re motivated too
often by a sense of guilt, fear, or regret. Experts who study behavior
change agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it’s
self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking. The survey confirmed that
the least effective strategies were those that aroused fear or regret in the
person attempting to make a change.
Studies have also shown that goals are easier to reach if they’re specific
and not too numerous (having too many goals limits the amount of attention
and willpower you can devote to reaching any single goal). Another recurring
theme is that it’s not enough to have a goal: You also need practical ways
to reach it. The expert conclusion is that any effort you make in the right
direction is worthwhile, even if you encounter setbacks or find yourself
backsliding from time to time.
Change is a process, not an event
There are several models of behavior change, but the one most widely applied
and tested presumes that at any given time, a person is in one of five
stages of change:
The idea is that people move from one stage to the next. Each stage is a
preparation for the following one, so hurrying through or skipping stages is
likely to result in setbacks. Also, different strategies are needed at
different stages. You don’t need to be an expert to try this approach.
Anyone motivated to change can use it to assess her situation and formulate
Below are the stages of change and some ideas about how people move through
At this stage, you have
no conscious intention of making a change, whether through lack of
awareness or information or because you have failed in the past and feel
demoralized You tend to avoid reading, talking, or thinking about the
unhealthy behavior, but your awareness and interest may be sparked by
outside influences. To move past precontemplation, you must sense that the
unhealthy behavior is at odds with important personal goals.
In some programs and
studies using this technique, people who say they’re considering a change
in the next six months are classified as contemplators. In reality, people
often vacillate for much longer than that. In this stage, you are aware
that the behavior is a problem and are considering doing something about
it, but you still aren’t committed to taking any action. Ambivalence may
lead you to weigh and re-weigh the benefits and costs.
There are several techniques to help people "unstick" themselves and move
the next stage. One is to make a list of the pros and cons of making a
change, then examine the barriers — the “cons” — and think about ways to
At this stage, you know you must
change, believe you can, and are making plans to change soon — say, next
month. At this stage, it’s important to anticipate potential obstacles.
Create a realistic action plan with achievable goals. This can help you
work your way up to more ambitious goals.
At this stage, you’ve changed and
you’ve begun to experience the challenges without the old behavior. You’ll
need to practice the alternatives you identified during the preparation
stage. At this stage, it’s important to be clear about your motivation; if
necessary, write down your reasons for making the change and read them
every day. Engage in “self-talk” to bolster your resolve. Get support. Let
others know you’re making a change.
Once you’ve practiced
the new behavior change for at least six months, you’re in the maintenance
stage. Now you’re working to prevent relapse and integrate the change into
your life. That may require other changes, especially avoiding situations
or triggers associated with the old habit. It can be tough, especially if
it means steering clear of certain activities or friends while you work to
fully assimilate your new, healthier habit.
It can take a few rounds. The path from one stage to the next is rarely
straightforward. It is not unusual to recycle through certain stages, like a
spiral. When relapse occurs during the maintenance stage, you may find
yourself back at the contemplation or preparation stage — or perhaps all the
way back to precontemplation if the relapse was so demoralizing that you
don’t even want to think about changing.
Relapse is common, perhaps even inevitable. Experts urge people not to be
derailed by it but to think of it as an integral part of the change
process. You learn something about yourself each time you relapse. For
example, you may find that the strategy you adopted didn’t suit your
priorities. Next time, you can use what you learned, adjust, and be a little
ahead of the game as you continue on the pathway to change.
*(excerpts from an Internet Harvard Medical School article)
Why It's Hard To Change (link)