Making Change Happen

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Isn’t it true that we all want to change something about ourselves or our lives? Whether it is a prompt from God, a New Year resolution, the sight of a photo, a life event, an illness or any number of other possibilities, from time to time some part of who we are or what we do comes into sharp focus as being in the ‘have to do something about it’ category. Sometimes we are aware of something for a long time before finally having the final push to do something to change it, other times it happens like a bolt from the blue; either way, some effort (and who are we kidding, usually a lot of effort otherwise we would just be doing whatever it is the different way anyway!) is required to set ourselves on a different path. And that’s not always easy.

 

So why do some things take positively ages to make any progress with, and some just fall into place with relative ease? That’s quite complicated! But one of the most accepted ways of looking at this is Prochaska’s ‘Cycle of Change’, which explains why, at a psychological level, we sometimes take a while, or a few attempts (hands up who quit smoking first time or has never been stuck in a yoyo diet pattern!!!) to achieve our goals.  This cycle consists of four stages: 1 Precontemplation, 2 Contemplation, 3 Preparation and 4 Action.  Let me talk you through them….

 

 

Most of us spend a fair bit of time in ‘precontemplation’ when it comes to some areas of our lives – until you know, for example, that when processed ready meals claim to be ‘low fat’, it usually means they are ‘stuffed with salt and sugar because they have to taste of something otherwise people won’t buy them’, and are not really a better option than the ‘normal fat’ equivalents, why would you think about changing to buying a different ready meal, or cooking for yourself? From the moment that this invades your consciousness, you now need to think about whether or not to change. Is this new information important enough? Is it easy enough to change? Is it worth it? Welcome to ‘contemplation’!

 

After some time, and this can be anything from an instant lightbulb moment to years or even decades later, we start to gradually make small, easy changes to ‘test’ whether we want to change, known in the game as ‘preparation’ – I have known some people bypass this step altogether and just get on with ‘action’, but most of us like a bit of preparation. One great example of this is quitting smoking – just about any smoker will be very proud of their achievement when they cut down the number of cigarettes they smoke each day, and we know that most of them are still getting pretty much the same amount of nicotine from fewer cigarettes than they would have done from the original number because they smoke every, single, last little molecule of nicotine out of the smaller number of cigarettes whereas previously they were fairly relaxed about each cigarette. But this represents a move from ‘contemplation’ to ‘preparation’ and I always make a point of being very excited about this when people tell me about it.

 

‘Action’ is when we finally make whatever change it is. Whether it is joining that gym, setting and reaching the quit date, going to the doctor/counsellor or whatever it takes, we finally go ahead and do it. And it normally feels great. For a short time!! Then comes the hard bit – maintaining the new habit! Maintaining the gym routine, keeping the weight off, not going for a cigarette break any more or avoiding the cream cake aisle can take perseverance. Here at Fit For Life Forever, we talk about a Holy Spirit led appetite to control our weight, and this of course translates to all areas in which we need to change – in God’s time and with His leading we can see dramatic change.

 

If you can imagine it, each part of the  cycle of change shows arrows pointing in both directions between stages of the cycle for good reason; it is possible to fall back from ‘action’ to ‘preparation’, or from ‘contemplation’ to ‘precontemplation’  (ever said ‘I once thought about doing ……… but never got round to it?) again, and the good news is while you can move from ‘maintenance’ (you have taken action and it is going well) to ‘precontemplation’, or technically ‘relapse’, where you forget about all your great efforts and go back to your old ways without even realising it, it is also possible that if you have developed good habits previously you can just pick them up again and go straight back to how you were when you practised them consistently. But again, most of us go through phases in life where we prioritise some things over others, and these change over time.

 

So if you want to change, it may be helpful to ask yourself where you are in this cycle. Take a long, honest look at what you are saying to yourself when nobody else is listening! It may help to pray about this and search out that ‘still small voice’ that lets you know what you need to do.

 

If you are anywhere before ‘action’, it can help to think about what needs to happen in order for you to be ready to act. Ask yourself questions like:

 

On a scale of 1-10, how important is it to me to make this change?

 

Why is it that number? Why not higher/lower? What would make it higher?

 

On a scale of 1-10, how easy is it to me to make this change?

 

Why is it that number? Why not higher/lower? What would make it higher?

 

Which box are you in? Why?

 

 

Very easy and very important

(Just Do It!)

 

 

Very difficult but very important

(Where the magic happens!)

 

Very easy but not important

(Why do it?)

 

 

Very difficult and not important

(Why do it?)

 

Most things in life are somewhere on a scale and very few at the extremes, but it tends to be in the ‘very difficult but very important’ box end of things that we find trouble! If this the case for you then please do persevere, with all the help you can possibly get around you, and with a God centred attitude towards it, and change should follow.

Psychologists talk about ‘self-efficacy’, which is our belief that we can change – and this can be as important to our success as our actual ability to do it. If we have a high sense of self efficacy, that is to say we really believe we can change, then we probably will. And equally, and fairly obviously, if we don’t believe we can change then we probably won’t.

 

There are four things which generally affect our belief that we can change. These are our self-esteem, our past experiences of trying to change, what others say to us about it and our stress levels. If we do not believe that we deserve to live in a way that is better, then it is unlikely that we will make the effort. And past experiences are very powerful; quitting smoking ‘again’ or going on ‘another’ diet really can make the heart sink if our previous efforts have been difficult or miserable. Being surrounded by critics is another major obstacle – hearing ‘you can do this’ from someone you trust has more effect on our thought patterns than most of us realise. Lastly, as most of us know from personal experience, being stressed affects a wide range of things in our lives generally. But it seems that it is one of the key factors stopping us from making positive change, so it is well worth doing whatever we can to reduce our stress levels if possible as part of this whole process.

 

The truly great news is that, as Christians, we have something way better than self-efficacy to guide us through this minefield – and that is our God efficacy! If you have low self-esteem then please look again at the Bible and remind yourself just how precious you are to your heavenly Father and remember again how high His esteem is for you. Your past? You are a new creation. What others say? What about what God says? His grace is sufficient for you, His strength is perfect in your weakness and He will never leave you or forsake you. And if you are stressed then do cast your cares on Him and He will sustain you. In all of these things, particularly issues relating to stress, it is well worth seeking out any help you can get from friends or professionals around you, but if you are making these changes in God’s way and in His timing then you have every reason to believe that you can do this.

 

Lastly, as change happens don’t forget to reward yourself! If you have lost some weight then of course you deserve to treat yourself, but don’t be fooled into making that a big bag of doughnuts. How about taking some time to make yourself a meal that you really love but don’t usually bother making because of how long it all takes? Or some food that you enjoy very much but don’t buy because it’s too expensive? Or some new clothes that flatter the slimmer you? There are so many healthy, positive ways to treat yourself!

 

Most of all – enjoy the process. Whatever it is that you are trying to achieve, keep in focus how amazing you are going to feel when you finally reach your goal, keep chipping away at whatever it is, and before you know it you will be there.

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