You Want Real Change?

ByDr. Marshall

You Want Real Change?

Wow, did I stumble onto something valuable this morning. I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t discovered this before, but with New Year officially begining, I’m grateful that I finally have. And I have to share it with you before you make any resolutions.

What I’m talking about is research by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. I know Carlo because he is married to a dear friend of mine. Mainly I know his work on addictions, but somehow I missed all his stuff about behavior change in general. And let’s be clear. These two guys are not arm-chair psychologists. Each has authored hundreds of articles in peer-reviewed journals. They’ve been working on this for four decades now. They speak with an authority that few of us ever achieve and they have an accumulated wisdom that I just have to share.

The focus of their research is how change occurs. And with today being New Year’s Day, I can only apologize for this short notice. But better late than never.  Okay, their message is this. BEHAVIOR CHANGE OCCURS IN STAGES AND THE CHANGE DOES NOT OCCUR UNTIL STAGE FOUR. Did you ever wonder why we don’t stick with all those resolutions we make on January 1? Well, according to their research, the reason is that most of us skip the preliminaries and we try to begin at stage 4.

That is, we sit down some time at the end of December and make a list of the changes we want to make in January. January comes and we jump right into the new behavior. Our intention is to go from couch potato on December 31 to morning jogger on January 1. But that is not how it works and that’s why we don’t keep our resolutions. According to Prochaska and DiClemente, change occurs in stages, and if we want to make the changes permanent, you may want to consider their advice.

In a recent issue of Psychology Today, Christine Carter, Ph.D., explains their work as it applies to New Year’s resolutions. I quote, “According to Prochaska and DiClemente, people change in stages. They go from not even really considering making a change, to contemplating making one, to preparing to make the change…and THEN (and only then) do they spring into action. The actual behavioral change (like starting to exercise, or going on a diet) is not the first stage of change, but the fourth.”

That is to say, lasting change is a process not a simple decision. As I look back at my own life, I quit smoking not because I made the decision one day to stop (my father could do that and I never understood how) but because I had, unknowingly as it turns out, gone through this four step process. So, if you want lasting change, begin by figuring out where you are in the process and what you now need to do to succeed.

Here are the four steps:

  1. Precontemplation. You know you should make some sort of change. In some cases you know it’s time for a change, while in other cases, other people (your doctor, your spouse, your therapist) have advised you to make a change. Nevertheless, you’re just not quite ready. It could be that you don’t know how to make the change; you may be discouraged because you have failed before, or you are in denial. In short, you still have a way to go and some work to do before you try to make a change.
  2. Contemplation. You’re thinking that all the advice you’re getting is true and you can feel yourself getting serious about a change. Your biggest obstacle at this stage is that you are afraid to let go of what is familiar. You want to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, but you’re not ready to give up bread and pasta; or you want to start going to the gym, but where do you get the time? If you’re going to give something up that you really enjoy, you may want to think about replacing it with something that is enjoyable. If you are going to give up something you enjoy, you may want to consider some tangible gain. If you quit smoking, for example, you can use the money to buy something else you want. That makes the sacrifice worth it. Good health is worth it, but it is not going to motivate you in the first few weeks. You need something now. The other problem at this stage is that you can easily fall into the trap of thinking about something is the same as doing something. It’s not, of course, but we can convince ourselves that it is.
  3. Preparation. Okay, so you have decided to change and you have dealt with the drawbacks. Your reasons for making the change is getting longer than your list for not making the change. The challenge at this stage is fear of failure. You want to make the change and you know how to make the change. Now you must overcome your fear of failure.
  4. Action. In the final stage, you put your intentions into action. But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small and make little successes that build on each other. At this stage, we advise our patients to do something early that will lead to tangible results. If you diet for two weeks and there is no change, you are not likely to continue. You might be motivated at the beginning, but without some early noticeable results, motivation will dissipate. So when you set up your action plan, set it up for early success as a way of keeping you motivated. Once you feel successful, motivation will take care of itself.

Read the full article by Dr. Carter here.

About the author

Dr. Marshall administrator

Richard Marshall earned an Ed.D. in reading and learning disabilities at West Virginia University in 1982. While completing his doctoral studies he served as an educational specialist in the Pediatric Neurology. Upon completion of his degree he became an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the WVU Medical School. After moving to Florida in 1983, he joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and worked for five years in the Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Program. In 1993, he completed a Ph.D. in School Psychology at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Neuropsychology. Upon degree completion, he taught courses in the biological bases of behavior and neuropsychology at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as developmental psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Austin. He and his family returned to Florida in 2001 and he once more became a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He is presently an Associate Professor in the College of Education and he is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF College of Medicine. In 2008, Dr. Marshall co-authored the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale; in 2011, he co-authored The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains (2011) and is currently revising the Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child (2012). In addition to writing and a busy schedule of workshops and presentations, Dr. Marshall also maintains a private practice in Lakeland, Florida where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; parenting; family therapy; and couples counseling. As part of that practice he maintains a daily blog and he co-hosts The Mental Breakdown Podcast (iTunes, Google Play Music, and YouTube) and the Psychreg Podcast. He has spoken to professional and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.

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