“I often find myself upset. I desire change yet don’t know where to start and when I create a plan it never turns out quite right. Some people take advantage of me while others find me to be a disappointment. I often question myself whether the thoughts I’m having are true or if I’m too harsh on myself. I also demand too much and can’t seem to find one nice thing to say to myself without being negative.”
Throughout my time working with clients, I have heard these same sentiments being said, in one variation or another. People start working towards a goal, get frustrated with the lack of progress, possibly make lists, yet only to find themselves stagnant and sometimes even more irritable than when they began the process. It’s easy to say to someone “change your mindset”, but what does that mean to them? And where do they begin? How can someone change their behavior, start anew, and actually keep it consistent?
In the late 70s, the Transtheoretical model was created but it is better known as The Stages of Change. Oblivious. Ignorance. Aloof. Avoidant. I use these to describe the first stage, but clinically it’s called pre-contemplation, which is when a person, or group, doesn’t know something is wrong or that something needs to be changed. They are ambivalent to the behavior they repeat and therefore continue to do it over and over again. Can you blame them? It has served a purpose and they must uphold it or…. Everything changes.
But What if I don't want to change?
However, let’s say that person now knows they have some sort of a problem or want to change something. “Damn,” they say to themselves “why didn’t anyone tell me?” Now they may think about changing it but there is no true motivation for it at this time. This describes contemplation. One may know of the problem yet don’t really care to change it. Drinking until you black out, lashing out at others, poor performance at work. Same things, different day. But again, why change because my behavior serves a purpose, right?
There comes a time when the individual, or group, views their behavior as dysfunctional and, possibly, annoying af. Yet what’s even more annoying is not knowing what to do about it, how to turn things around, or even shall we say ask for help (insert gasp). A crucial point in the process occurs because it almost feels like “now or never”. The person becomes industrious by looking for ways to improve upon the behavior, or they can become negative by rejecting any and everything because “none of it is going to work” out. Another outcome is stagnation, or feeling stuck, because one has tried “everything”.
Yet, at some point, you aim to change your behavior and become motivated to seek out resources. This is called preparation. The individual has decided to change their behavior, and they begin to think about how to do so. The journey continues, but this time with trial and error. Time to perform. In this moment, know that it’s not going to be perfect and that it will take time. Understand that practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent. Perfectionism is a lie we tell ourselves to keep from resting and being positive to ourselves. Typically, in the times in trial and error, we can understand why something didn’t work and possibly what needs to be fixed.
If you go to the gym to gain muscle, it takes time to see those gains. If you wake up with depression-like symptoms, it can be difficult to imagine the change, but you have a drive to “get it right” this is when the action stage kicks in. After a while, however, one can begin to see the fruits of their labor and realize that their mistakes paved a way for making it right. You see, motivation can be fun because it gets the people going, it’s encouraging, and a vibe. Once you are aware of your ability to identify where the holes are in your consistency, you are able to course correct and get on the path of consistent and permanent movement. Maintaining this behavior IS the new behavior. Having a realistic view of you, others, and the world around you will begin to be seen in a positive light.
At this time, you may continue to face challenges and that’s okay. You have successfully practiced finding out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. However, even though you may still face challenges and get frustrated every now and then, you have also successfully changed your behavior for a significant amount of time. This needs to be celebrated because you have finally reached the maintenance phase. It may not be perfect and, again, that’s okay however being able to practice at making your behavior change over time is the work.
Don't Give Up
There may be a possibility for relapse where you can return to your previous problem behavior. This can happen at any time, but the point is to keep moving forward and try, try again. This does not happen to everyone but may be a possibility to some. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or can’t accomplish complete behavior changed. It just means you made a mistake and you’re human. Learn from those mistakes and continue to push yourself forward. My hope is that this gave you some insight into why behaviors are repeated and a process for changing them. If you wish to begin your journey in changing your behaviors, please visit our Therapists page to find someone that can help you practice making positive, permanent behavior changes.
Written by Cymone Damon-David