At times you may find that there is something in your life that has to change but it seems like it is taking forever to actually change it. “I still do the same thing”, you exclaim! “When am I ever going to change?”
Good news… you are already changing. It is just that you are in the middle of it and not at the end.
What is the problem…
For many of us, we look to the end result to determine if we have changed. This tells us if the fruits of our efforts are worthwhile or not. Sometimes we give up because the same problem we wanted to change is still with us.
The problem here is that we hope that change will be instantaneous. We do not want to go through the long process that brings about lasting change. It may be because we do not recognise the steps in the process by which we can mark our way through it and so we become disheartened and give up. It could also be because it is hard work to change. This becomes too much for us to keep going, so we go back to our old ways. Not because they are better, but because they are easier.
We want to ensure that our attempts at change are successful. To do this we need to know the steps of change. Using these we can then guage our position in the process of change. So what are these steps?
The steps of change
Whenever you break a habit, or change something that you have been doing for a while, there is a process that you will go through. The good news is that the first step in this process is recognising there is a problem. If you have done that then you are already on your way to changing. What follows is each step and a short description of what it involves:
Step 1 – Recognising there is a problem
It can take a long time before you become aware of a problem that many of the people close to you have known about for ages. Sometimes the problem is something that everyone else knows about but you do not. People will sometimes try to help you reach this step by telling you about the problem. Until you are ready to receive this sort of information you will just brush it off as someone intruding on your life. Once aware of the problem however, you can start to do something about it.
Step 2 – Recognising the need for change
It is one thing to recognise a problem and quite another to realise there is a need to change it. This is the launching point for all change processes. The move from recognising the problem to realising there is a need to change it is made within a short time for most people.
Step 3 – Determining what will replace it
Since the problem is something that you may have had for a while it is now ingrained in you as a habit. Habits are hard to break but not impossible. The most important part of changing a habit is determining what will replace it. Habits are not eliminated, they are changed. You cannot eliminate habitually watching television all night. You must replace it with reading, going out or some other activity. The same with all of our habits. Choose something that you want to do, say, or think that will replace your current action, words or thoughts. This prepares you for the next step.
Step 4 – Recognise your problem after the act
Now that you know about your problem and have been thinking about it, you will start to recognise situations when it occurs. The only problem here is that you only recognise it after it has happened. Of course this is the first part of being able to change. Looking at the situation that has just occurred and identifying the best way to replace it in that particular situation helps prevent the same situation occurring again.
Step 5 – Recognising the problem during the act
Having really started to work on the problem you will start to recognise the problem behaviour during the middle of doing it. This is an advance over the previous step and indicates that you are making significant steps toward change.
Step 6 – Recognising the problem just before the act
At this step the problem is almost eliminated although since the behaviour is still there it does not really feel like it. Recognising the problem behaviour just afterwards may not leave room for change just yet but it is solid evidence of how far you have come in changing the behaviour.
Step 7 – Recognising the problem before it happens
This is the moment of seeing change. After living with an awareness of the problem for so long it finally comes to this. By recognising the problem before it happens you can now stop yourself from engaging in the unwanted behaviour. Since you have stopped yourself beforehand all you need to do now is replace it with the desired behaviour.
Step 8 – Building better habits
Now that the problem behaviour has been replaced a few times it will become easier and easier to continue replacing it. Over time it becomes second nature to respond with your preferred behaviour. In doing this the new behaviour becomes cemented into your life as a permanent habit.
Step 9 – Change completed
With your old habit replaced by the new one your change is now complete. Any situation where the old habit would have occured you now see the new habit occurring. The change becomes obvious and you feel better for knowing it has happened. There were some tough times throughout this period of change but now you are through it. The change has been completed.
As you can see, there are quite a number of steps involved in changing something. The time that it takes to move through these steps varies from person to person and from habit to habit. The one thing that we can be sure of though is that we all move through these steps no matter how fast or how slow.
By being aware of these steps, the process of change becomes more rewarding. When you recognise you are doing something in the middle of doing it, you realise that you have already progressed to step 5 even though the undesired behaviour is still there. You are changing, and you now know it too.
That is the steps of change.
NB: I do not hold claim to the originality of this information as it is something that I have gleaned from reading a number of works. It is highly likely that someone else has explained it like this before. I have put this here because so many people seem to get upset with themselves even though they are well advanced in their change process and I wanted them to know that although they have not “arrived”, they are well on the way.