Change: Is it Really Something to Fear?

Change – it’s happening, all around us. Sometimes the changes we see in the world feel overwhelming and chaotic. We, as a culture in Western Society continuously strive for the goals that we feel will give us our “happily ever after”, where we will no longer have to worry about the constant flux around us. The notion that “If I just get that job that pays $18 per hour everything will be all right!” Or, the idea that “If I meet the right partner my life will come together” are unrealistic.  The reality is that change will be the constant in our lives; no matter how “successful” we become. We all see how technology is evolving the world around us, and we know that we can expect to make a number of career changes throughout our lives, so it makes sense to become experts at dealing with change. One of the ways to do this is to become familiar with the process of change and learn how to apply it to ourselves.

The process of change tends to happen in five steps. Once an individual identifies which stage of change they are at they can test their motivation and move forward from there.

During the first step, a person likely will not recognize the need for change. It might look something like this, “I don’t need to exercise; my doctor doesn’t know what he is talking about!” Or, “I don’t need to finish my grade 12; I can make $80,000 a year with grade 9 because my Dad and Grandpa did it!” This stage is called “Pre-Contemplation” It is where a person does not see for themselves that there is a need to do something different. Some important signs for yourself that this may be you are if your friends, family or other professionals in your life consistently give you information about the need for change. This information may be pamphlets, videos, subtle suggestions here and there, and maybe you are feeling a bit uncomfortable or irritated with the idea that you need to do something different.

The second stage of change is referred to as the “Contemplation” stage and it is where the individual starts to see the value in making a change. They may not be completely sold on the idea and may flip-flop back and forth regarding any sort of commitment. They might, however, find themselves gathering information, asking questions and seeking people knowledgeable in the subject matter but not committing to any time frames. To use the examples above, the individual who originally did not see the value in exercise might start reading about how exercise can affect his or her life. For the individual not wanting to complete their high school, they may begin looking at what jobs they are currently qualified for, researching schools that provide the training or checking out costs and time frames. Does this sound like you, if so read on!!

Stage three is the “Preparation” stage. The key point here is that the individual not only sees that they need to make the change but intends to make it within 60 days. Our non-exercising friend will have set an appointment with a Personal Trainer or has committed to a specific date to begin their exercise routine. Our friend intending to graduate Grade 12 will have signed up for some courses and have a specific start date set.  They will both have detailed knowledge about what they will be doing and planning an action plan outlining specific steps needed to accomplish their goals. Stage 3 feeds directly into the “Action” Stage and this is where the fun begins!

The fourth step, the Action Stage is where the individual will consistently work towards making the change. Now it might sound that this is where the process ends in success but for anyone who has decided to incorporate physical activity into their lifestyle or decided to continue with their education, they will tell you that the struggle with the benefits of the change still exists. The debate regarding the pro’s and con’s of whatever action they are taking may rear its ugly head regularly and they might find themselves reassessing their motivation to continue working towards their objective on a continual basis. If you are in stage 4 it is important to recognize the good things you have accomplished, be kind to yourself and reward yourself for all of your successes, regardless of how small they seem to be!

The final stage of change is the “Maintenance” stage. This is where the individual has been consistently committed to the change made for six months or more. Maybe the behavior changes have become a new habit. They might find themselves building on the changes they have made. Our friend who has been working on their Grade 12 might start doing some extra reading or studying in a subject of interest. Maybe they are taking some continuing education courses at a community college. Our physically fit friend might incorporate healthier eating habits; perhaps joining a team sport.

Occasionally, even after six months of commitment we might find ourselves “recycling” right back to one of the previous stages. Our exercising friend may slip back into couch potato habits and spend some time beating themselves up for “failing” in their efforts. Our friend trying to finish their high school might find they spend a few weeks socializing with friends and loose focus on their studies. Maybe they talk themselves right out of the benefits of their schooling, sending themselves right back to the “Pre-contemplation Stage”.  Rest assured, this type of behavior is common for everyone making changes and it is imperative that we remember that we can learn from our “slip-ups”.  We can gain some incredible insights into ourselves and our motivations during these times.

Sometimes it is important to recognize when we need to seek the help of a professional. If you are engaging in a career or job change you can enlist the help of a qualified Employment or Career Counsellor through a local employment center. If you are trying to make changes in relationships, self esteem or mental wellness, the help of a Health and Wellness Counsellor may be necessary. Olympic athletes, who appear to be the epitome of success even acquire the support of psychologists, coaches and counselors to assist them in adapting and preparing for change. They do this to the point that they thrive and enjoy the fear developed by change! Understanding the process involved in making a change is one of the first steps to understanding yourself and your motivations supporting you.  You will even get to the point where you will enjoy change and look forward to these opportunities contributing to your personal and professional development.

* Written by Patricia Leiser is a Career Counselor at Pacific Community Resources Society.  This was orignially posted on the BCWIN Youth Site and is reposted here with permission.

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