Are You Ready for Change?
Change what? Most women arriving at Green Mountain for the first time have certain ideas about what needs to change. For some, it’s their relationship with food, including what they eat, when, how, in what quantities and frequency, as well as their emotional attachments to food. Others will say it’s their relationship to exercise and moving their bodies that needs to change. They come to get ‘back on track’ or start a whole new way of being with their bodies, moving, caring for, perhaps even learning to change their attitudes about their bodies. Some are aware they need to make bigger changes in their lives, but don’t know where to start.
Begin Where You Are
This issue of where to begin is central. You can only begin where you are. To help figure out where that is, the stages of change theory by DiClemente and Prochaska can be helpful. In their book, “Changing for Good,” they identify the six stages of change, and emphasize that knowing what stage you are in will inform you about what you need to move forward.
Stage #1: Pre-contemplation
In this stage, a person has no intention or plan to change. She may not see the need for change, or think it is not possible. Other people who think she “should” make a lifestyle change, for example, may begin nagging, suggesting or pushing solutions, including the latest “diet.” A person in this stage is not ready for change and such “shoulds” may have the opposite effect.
Stage #2: Contemplation
When a person does begin to consider a change, she moves into the Contemplation stage. In this stage, she begins to weigh the pros and cons, the risks and costs of making a change. The natural ambivalence that accompanies any considered change will show up most strongly in this stage, although ambivalence may of course remain to varying degrees throughout the different stages.
Stage #3: Decision to change
At the point that a person makes a decision to change, all sorts of options become available that were not seen or recognized before. This decision-making phase is important, and the extent to which one is determined, hopeful and motivated will have an important impact on the next step.
Stage #4: Action
It’s always interesting to learn how this happens for women who arrive at Green Mountain. For some, months or even years may have passed between first considering the possibility of lifestyle change, and actually taking the step to make the reservation. But it really doesn’t matter when you begin. What matters is that you begin.
Stage #5: Relapse
Change does not occur in a simple linear direction. There will be lapses, slips, returns to old habits and patterns. But a lapse does not have to turn into a full relapse—or collapse—and there can be important lessons learned in the midst of a backward slide, including how to recognize the problem early and get back on track.
Stage #6: Maintenance
Replacing old habits with new ones and maintaining them for the long haul often brings up much fear. “What if I can’t maintain what I started?” is spoken as if this is the last chance. It is important to remember that the presence of fear does not predict failure—it is fear, not fact.
Moving Through the Stages Successfully
On her website BodyPositive.com, Deborah Burgard speaks about factors that promote motivation in each stage.
- Practical advice can be extremely helpful, but earlier, in the pre-contemplation stage, such advice can actually decrease motivation or foster resistance.
- Courage is required in the contemplation stage because undertaking change can be anxiety-producing and stressful.
- Creativity and diversity foster successful change in the action stage.
- Compassion – not criticism or judgment — is an important factor in the relapse phase
- Patience, persistence and support are especially important in the maintenance phase.
Attitudes of mindfulness also facilitate successful movement through each stage of change. The attitude of non-judging, of observing connections without attaching value judgments and allowing things to be as they are, can be very helpful as one begins to consider changing old habits. Patience is needed in all stages. The attitude of Beginner’s Mind allows one to take in new information and start again, being in the present rather than replaying past experiences. Trust in one’s own worthiness and capability is required to move through lapses, as is the attitude of compassion.
One of the lessons of mindfulness is the inevitability of change. We resist change out of fear, but more frightening would be not changing. That would mean not growing or even stagnation. Better to embrace the change and enjoy the ride. Knowing where you are right now in the stages of change can help foster movement to the next stage.