Why is change so hard?

Intrapersonal change feels difficult in part because it doesn’t happen quickly. For example, trying to kick a bad habit, like biting our nails or putting ourselves down when we get a compliment, first requires that we notice we have a habit we don’t like or that isn’t good for us. And that is just the beginning, according to the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, there are 5 phases we go through before a change has taken hold. If you are trying to change something about yourself, note where you are in the process and make a plan to move forward. Then PRACTICE! I like to think of the practice as strengthening a neural pathway for the new habit that can compete better with the old habit’s neural pathway–Like a race inside my brain to the response I most want. This means I will win some and lose some. When I lose, I make a conscious effort to strengthen that process to better compete next time. What I don’t do is focus on the thing I don’t like because then I am strengthening the negative.

Phase 1: Precontemplation (Not Ready)

People at this stage do not intend to start the healthy behavior in the near future (within 6 months), and may be unaware of the need to change. People here learn more about healthy behavior: they are encouraged to think about the pros of changing their behavior and to feel emotions about the effects of their negative behavior on others.

Precontemplators typically underestimate the pros of changing, overestimate the cons, and often are not aware of making such mistakes.

One of the most effective steps that others can help with at this stage is to encourage them to become more mindful of their decision making and more conscious of the multiple benefits of changing an unhealthy behavior.

Phase 2: Contemplation (Getting Ready)
At this stage, participants are intending to start the healthy behavior within the next 6 months. While they are usually now more aware of the pros of changing, their cons are about equal to their Pros. This ambivalence about changing can cause them to keep putting off taking action.

People here learn about the kind of person they could be if they changed their behavior and learn more from people who behave in healthy ways.

Others can influence and help effectively at this stage by encouraging them to work at reducing the cons of changing their behavior.

Phase 3: Preparation (Ready)
People at this stage are ready to start taking action within the next 30 days. They take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives. For example, they tell their friends and family that they want to change their behavior.

People in this stage should be encouraged to seek support from friends they trust, tell people about their plan to change the way they act, and think about how they would feel if they behaved in a healthier way. Their number one concern is: when they act, will they fail? They learn that the better prepared they are, the more likely they are to keep progressing.

Phase 4: Action
People at this stage have changed their behavior within the last 6 months and need to work hard to keep moving ahead. These participants need to learn how to strengthen their commitments to change and to fight urges to slip back.

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behavior with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

There is a process that we must go through to internalize a change we are trying to make inside ourselves. Practice is what makes the change occur; however, while we are in the practice interval of change we must go through 4 distinct stages before we have developed a new habit.

4 stages of changing during the action phase (from the Middle Way Curriculum) 

  1. Awkward: Feels weird and maybe undoable.
  2.  Phony: Feels less weird and more doable, but doesn’t feel like you.
  3.  Mechanical: Feels more like you, certainly doable, but it is still a conscious effort.
  4. Internalized: Now it is you, it occurs naturally and less consciously when the situation arises.

Phase 5: Maintenance
People at this stage changed their behavior more than 6 months ago. It is important for people in this stage to be aware of situations that may tempt them to slip back into doing the unhealthy behavior—particularly stressful situations.

It is recommended that people in this stage seek support from and talk with people whom they trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and remember to engage in healthy activities to cope with stress instead of relying on unhealthy behavior.


Best Wishes!



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  1. Lavelda Naylor said:

    Agreed. I even think a way to facilitate wanted or needed change is to accept the self in its totality. This sounds contradictory but I see it more as a distinction- I can love and approve of myself and still want different experiences. For instance, I approve of myself when I fail but I may still want to try that again.

  2. Very educational,helpful too.In a way,I feel that sometimes a person shouldn’t change;accept who they are.But,that is only in some cases 🙂

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