You may have heard the saying that the only certainties in life are death, taxes and change. It’s especially true if we are to progress, evolve and grow. Yet despite its fundamental importance for coveted forward movement, people usually wait until change is forced upon them rather than seeking it out, preferring the perceived certainty of their comfort zones – however dysfunctional.
While we can’t always anticipate change and may not know when it’s necessary – curve balls and unfamiliar challenges may catch us off guard – for the most part, change paradoxically follows a somewhat predictable path. By learning to understand the nuances of its process, we can transform feared change into a growth partner.
Research reveals several stages of change that must be achieved before new behaviours become permanent – and contrary to tropes that equate ‘falling off the wagon’ with failure, relapse is a normal, expected part of change. While, historically, behavioural science has tended to focus on correcting patterns that impede optimal functioning, the contemporary scientific field of positive psychology takes a more optimistic stance, encouraging and supporting change as a discretionary process towards positive change. It’s not a matter of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but rather, ‘if it ain’t as good as it could be, upgrade it’.
New year’s resolutions are ripe for this approach, which reimagines what is often viewed as a punitive mandate as an opportunity for curious discovery of new frontiers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t seek to correct what’s holding you back, or even that positively oriented change is necessarily easy (it’s not)! But it is an invitation and licence to embrace change, comforted by the scaffold of an evidence-based framework that promotes curiosity and selfcompassion. I wish you a courageous and flourishing new year.
• Precontemplation – Do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future, e.g. six months, possibly unaware of consequences.
• Contemplation – Intend to change in the next six months. More aware of pros of changing, but ambivalent about cons. Can become chronic procrastination.
• Preparation – Intend to take action within next month. Have a plan of action, such as joining a gym or implementing selfhelp plan.
• Action – New behaviour is underway. High risk of relapse.
• Maintenance – Have made specific changes and working to prevent relapse. Risk of relapse lessens, confidence grows.
CREATE POSITIVE CHANGE WITH THIS PROVEN MODEL:
Identify your stage of change – If you’re only at contemplation or even if you’re at the later stages of preparation, determination or action, write a list of all the negatives of not making the positive change. You need to know what your potential blockers are and proactively plan to overcome them.
Focus on the positives of change – Write a list of all the benefits of creating the positive changes you desire to make. Make sure your list of benefits outweighs the negatives as research shows that positive change won’t be sustained unless the benefits of change far outweigh the negatives. Put this list on a wall or door that’s highly visible and review it often!
Find your WHY of change – If the change you’re seeking wasn’t really your idea in the first place and you’re still ambivalent and not confident of success, you really need to dig deeper to find your why. This means really knowing why you’d even bother making the change for yourself (it could be for your health, or to enable greater financial security).
Create a ‘Positive Change Team’ – Research shows that those with social support are more likely to succeed when it comes to change. Choose your team with care, though, as sometimes support is actually sabotage in disguise! Make sure you really do have people who are going to encourage you rather than undermine your success (‘Oh, come on, one glass of bubbles is not going to kill you!’)
Engage a professional change expert – While most people accept the need to seek external support to cope with unforeseen and unavoidable major changes, most remain reluctant to enlist professional help to improve what’s not broken. Yet why don’t our life goals deserve every chance of success? – which has been shown to be greater with the aid of a personal coach or mentor. Even if you decide not to engage a professional coach, find a buddy who also has a goal and try co-coaching each other. If you are facing a major life change, it is wise to seek professional assistance, one who can be truly objective and has the expertise to assist you in navigating what can be destabilising changes. Visit Australian Psychological Society’s Find a Psychologist Service at psychology.org.au to find an expert with specialist skills in your area of need.