Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year’s resolutions- Making Changes Successfully

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. This is the time of the year that people often take stock of the past year and may be thinking about making changes in their lives for the coming year. While many of these changes are often well-motivated, unfortunately the changes are sometimes short-lived. Think of the number of people who join health clubs and gyms at this time of the year, trying to shed some of their excess holiday weight. Many of these people have “fallen off the wagon” before the month of January is out.

How do we successfully make changes in our lives? Psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente studied people as they tried to make changes and found that people go through several distinct stages as they try to make a change. They also found that people need different types of help or support depending on the stage they are at. While this model is often used in treating addictions (aclohol, drugs, smoking, gambling), it has applicability to almost any type of problem.

The stages of change model identifies a number of stages that people experience when making any change. Some people who attempt to make a change in their lives may do so prematurely because they are really in the “contemplation” stage. They are thinking about making a change, but are really not ready to make it. You might hear them say "I know I have to stop what I'm doing, but I enjoy it." The person knows a change is needed but is really not ready to make the change. Before attempting to change, these persons need to seriously review and evaluate the pros and cons of continuing the behaviour and of changing it. They also need the reassurance that when they do decide on making the change that they will be able to do it.

With other people, they know that they have the strength to change, but they may not know how to go about it. These people are likely at the “action” stage. Talking to a counsellor at this stage or with others who have navigated similar changes may be helpful. People in this stage need to know that there are many options to go about making changes and some practical advice about making these changes may be helpful. It is also important that potential barriers to change are identified and that these people realize that initial “small steps” are the way to go. At this point, they can then begin to make changes by altering their behaviour, experiences or environment in order to deal with the problem(s).

Some people have already started down the path of change. They want to make the change and know how to go about it. During the “maintenance” stage, it is important to review successes and identify potential obstacles. "It’s a one-day-at-a-time struggle as people in this stage establish new behaviour patterns and try to sustain the change over the long term. These people are changing their ingrained habits and even changing their braining wiring.

I have found that this stage can be a particular vulnerable time for some people. If they slip up once or twice, they may give up and head back to the pre-contemplation stage. They may not try to change again for a long time or maybe never try again. Other people learn to see these slips as opportunities to grow more aware of factors that can cause a “relapse” and then take steps to deal with those factors. This is also an important time for counselling support and/or the support of someone who has successfully navigated this stage.

Knowing what stage you are at in the change process can help you identify what support and what strategies will ensure success in your efforts to make a life change.

Best regards,


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