In a previous post, I briefly described psychologists DiClemente and Prochaska’s behavioral change model, which includes five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. In this post, I will tackle the pre-contemplation stage.
Anna Maloski is married with a young son. Two months ago, Anna was laid off from her job. Since then, offers for reduced pay have come her way, but she refuses them, not wanting to work any job except the one she desires. Now she and her husband are behind on bills and their home is facing foreclosure.
Anna’s husband suggests they sell the house and move into an apartment until they’re in a better financial position. But Anna loves basking in their nice home and refuses to give up the property. The house forecloses, ruining the couple’s credit. Her husband resents her for being selfish and their marriage is now tumultuous. Anna had known the effect her actions would have on her family but chose to cling to what made her comfortable.
Anna’s resistance to change is a prime example of someone trapped in the pre-contemplation stage of the behavioral change process. Here, we’re either in denial, not wanting to see how our negative actions are impacting ourselves and others; or we’re aware of our problem but have no intentions of changing. In other words, we don’t view change as an option.
So how do we overcome our resistance to change?
We can start by:
Cultivating self-awareness. When we know ourselves, it’s impossible to escape the reality of our behavior. We know what makes us happy, sad, or indifferent, and how we’re likely to respond to situations. Our profound understanding of who we are will keep us out of denial – that phase where we don’t want to admit we have a problem.
Acknowledging why we’re resistant to change. Maybe we’ve become used to doing things a certain way and we’re afraid to deviate, fearing that a new system will fail. Perhaps we’ve tried to change before but quit midway through the change process because the going got tough. Maybe we feel that people are the way they are and behavioral change is impossible. Perhaps we have a rebellious streak and detest being told what to do. Maybe we believe in the excuses we’ve invented for our negative actions. Knowing why we’re resistant to change helps us recognize when we’re blocking the process of change.
Listening to those who have our best interests at heart. Usually, someone has tried to get us to see the error of our ways. For instance, they told us to quit drinking so much, to lose weight, or to stop being so difficult to get along with. These people are usually correct in their assessment of us, but our ego makes it hard to accept our role in our failings. To accept useful advice, we must surrender our need to be right.
Keeping our goals firmly in mind. We desire many things in life and might stumble on our way to achieving them. But if we can admit where we’re going wrong, we can still attain our goals. Staying on the wrong course leads only to destruction. We won’t have smooth marriages if we keep doing things to rock the union. We won’t have a successful business if we keep treating our customers poorly. We won’t have respectful kids if we don’t set and maintain boundaries. By keeping our goals firmly in mind, we have a reason to admit (and change) our problem.
Empathizing with others. If we’re not sympathetic to the pain of others, we’ll rationalize why we hurt them, or we’ll deny it and convince ourselves that we’re innocent. We must be able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Only then can we acknowledge the effect we had on them and work on rectifying it.
On the path to change, always remember that change happens through baby steps, not in one leap.