Want to stop ignoring problems? Take action now

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Have you always dismissed people who said you had a problem? Are you now starting to suspect they may be right? Do you want to stop ignoring problems from now on?

Congratulations!

You’ve moved up a rung in the cycle of change. You’ve gone from being totally unaware of a problem to realising that trouble’s brewing.

You’ve left the precontemplation stage of change.

You’re in the contemplation stage 

But let’s quickly recap the precontemplation stage of change.

At this stage, you don’t want to know. You push away any suggestion of a problem, or that you need to do anything about it. You avoid thinking about what will happen if you don’t change. And you don’t want to be pressured.

In fact, you may dig your heels in if people pressure you to change.

But then reality bites

Somehow you’ve been jolted into reality. A crisis may have taught you how serious your issues are.

Suddenly you can’t keep ignoring problems any more. You know you have to do something.

You’ve moved into the contemplation stage of change. 

Remember Brian?

Only 54, he’s been overeating, drinking excessively and smoking for years. Now he’s dangerously overweight, and at risk of heart attack, diabetes and cancer.

He’s ignored any attempts by family, friends or doctors to change his habits. He’s been stuck at the precontemplation stage for years.

1 Now it’s crunch time

Brian’s father died of a massive coronary at 55.

For years, Brian has joked about dropping dead on his 55th birthday. Now it’s creeping closer and closer. He’s started to think of his mortality.

What’s more, his eldest daughter Joanne is pregnant with his first grandchild. She broke down in tears when she told him. She’s worried he won’t be round to guide his grandkids when they’re older.

At first Brian was aghast. He hadn’t realised his jokes about dropping dead had affected his kids so much. He’d caused them years of needless anguish.

To be honest, he joked around to cover up his fear of dying young like his father. And the hours of TV, eating and drinking helped him stifle his dread as well.

So he’s been ignoring his problems for 20 years. He’s avoided reality for so long, he’s started to think he’s bullet proof.

But the very strategies he used to block his fears are likely to kill him.

2 He can’t avoid the truth

Brian’s shocked to realise he does have a problem. A problem years in the making.

His wife Linda is fed up too. She’s told him she’s not fetching and carrying for him any more, or stocking the house with crisps, cakes, and convenience foods. She’s going out to enjoy her life and if he won’t join her, too bad!

Now Brian knows he really has to act.

3 What are his reasons to change?

Brian now has several serious reasons to change.

He wants to be a meaningful part of his grandchildren’s lives. That means being fit and healthy enough to join in with their activities. And mentally sharp enough to be in touch with what matters to their generation. Being a person who’s important to them.

He’s filled with regret that he didn’t make the effort with his own kids. Now’s his chance to make amends to them and Linda.

Brian knows he hasn’t nurtured his relationship with Linda. They’ve run along separate tracks for years, and don’t have much in common any more.

He vows to change for the sake of his wife, his kids and his grandkids.

Change for yourself

But most importantly, Brian vows to change for himself. He wants to be that more active version of himself that he remembers.

Not the defeated man slouched in front of the TV, life flitting before his eyes.

Powerful reasons motivate change

Brian wants to find renewed meaning and purpose in his life. 

He realises how much he’s missed out on in the past 20 years. He wants to live a more fulfilling life for the years he has left.

He may die at 55, even if he does make some changes. Or he may die at 85, which is far more likely if he takes action now.

But he doesn’t want to regret spending his life in mindless avoidance in front of the TV. He wants to face up to life and stop ignoring problems.

Fortunately his reasons for changing are pretty powerful. Let’s hope they’re strong enough to carry him through to the contemplation stage of change.

4 Ambivalence about change

Brian’s still a bit hesitant though. He’s not sure what he’s let himself in for.

That’s OK. Being ambivalent about change is normal. 

At present he doesn’t know much about his health issues. Now he needs to learn new, more helpful strategies to replace his old habits.

That’s pretty daunting. And he doesn’t want people pushing him. He still wants to feel he’s in control.

Brian’s at the crossroads

Brian’s been jolted into awareness of the need to take action. And at the moment he has the best of intentions.

But he could go down one of two paths

He could keep moving along the path from contemplation to the next stage, preparation for action. If so, he’ll need to define what he wants to achieve. And he’ll need to restrain himself from leaping into action without a plan.

If Brian plans beforehand, he’ll set more realistic goals. And he’ll learn how to cope with cravings and those days when he just wants to quit. 

So he wants to give himself time to think about the road ahead.

But there’s danger ahead

Because the other path leads to further inaction.

The problem is that if Brian waits too long to act, he could end up stuck again.

He could stay in the contemplation stage of change for years, not achieving anything.

He needs to move on to the preparation stage as soon as he can. Here are some tips that could help him move along more quickly. 

1 Time limits are helpful

At least Brian has time limits to spur him along. Linda, his wife, is impatient to begin enjoying life again. His daughter’s baby is due in six months. And Brian’s dreaded 55th birthday is in 10 months.

So time pressures may spur him on to start preparing for action.

2 Write down reasons to change

Right now, Brian needs to write down his reasons to change. 

He can post up copies of this wherever he’ll see them clearly every day. Like a card on the fridge, in his wallet, on his computer monitor, or by his TV table. Or he could record a phone message to listen to whenever he’s tempted to give up.

Anything that will remind him why he’s changing his lifestyle will bolster his motivation. 

3 Get expert help/information

Brian thinks about seeing his doctor again – and listening to her this time! He wonders if Linda would come along to give him some support.

He flicks through a couple of websites run by university health centres, or health experts with the diabetes and heart foundations.

But it’s a bit too overwhelming at present.

4 Tackle one issue at a time

After all, Brian’s got several big issues to deal with.

He needs to begin with just one issue. He decides to ask his doctor some questions. 

Which would be the easiest one to change? Which would give the greatest benefit in the shortest time?

Once he’s got more information, he can make a decision and start planning his strategy.

5 Let go of negative self-talk

Brian could easily succumb now to some negative self-talk.

He could berate himself for letting his health issues get so out of hand. He could use anger against himself to get motivated.

But what good would that do? If anything it’ll make him feel worse. And then he’ll reach for the cream buns and ginger snaps again.

6 Be mindful

Instead, Brian can notice these urges to beat himself up, and then let them go using mindfulness.

Far better to remember his reasons to change; his desire to reconnect with family and his own hidden potential. Then he can refocus on an interesting activity and let the negative thoughts gradually disappear.

7 Stay in the present

Brian can focus on staying in the present, rather than the past. 

Dwelling on what he wished he’d done differently isn’t useful. 

He can acknowledge his past behaviour wasn’t helpful.

But that’s as far as it goes. The past is over.

It’s what he’ll commit to doing in the present that’s important. And whether he’ll stick to it, no matter how tempted he is to give it up.

The important thing is whether he’s going to stop ignoring problems, and move through the contemplation stage of change. 

8 Avoid comparisons with others

Brian could also fall into the trap of comparing himself with others the same age – friends who are fitter, leaner, healthier; friends out running marathons or leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

But this wouldn’t be helpful either.

Everyone’s different. They have different goals, different needs, and different circumstances.

No-one else has had his exact life experiences. He’s the only one going on this particular journey. There’s no point in comparing with anyone else. It’s useless.

Especially since he could use it as another stick to beat himself with. Using anger, shame, or fear to motivate himself isn’t effective.

It won’t last.

It’ll only make him feel bad about himself. Then he’ll try to feel better by eating or drinking too much. And of course, this will undo any good he’s done.

9 Accept reality

Far better for Brian to accept himself as he is now. This is the reality. This is how it is. If he doesn’t accept himself, he won’t set effective or realistic goals.

He won’t understand where he’s coming from, or where he needs to be.

Brian needs the courage to stand on those scales and see what his weight is. The courage to notice what he’s eating and drinking each day. And the courage to notice how many cigarettes he’s smoking as well.

Unless he’s willing to see where he’s at, he’ll reduce his chances of success.

10 Accept change is a slow process

Brian also needs to accept that change is a slow process. 

Of course, he won’t work on all these issues at once. This will take time, even though he’d love to wave a magic wand and fix everything right away.

Sadly it doesn’t work like that.

There’s good news though. He’ll find as he works on one issue, the others will probably improve too.

Many strategies will be useful for all the issues he faces. So he’ll be able to transfer skills he learns from one issue to the next.

11 Realise it gets easier with time

It’ll become easier as Brian goes along. He’ll be more able to withstand cravings, more motivated to stick to his goals, and more involved in meaningful activities.

We’ll follow Brian step by step on his journey. 

What about you?

Are you at the contemplation stage of change in some area of your life?

Have you realised you’ve been ignoring problems? What behaviour do you want to change?

Make sure you pick only one thing to change at present. 

It may be the easiest thing to change, or the most important.

Whichever it is, work out your reasons for wanting to change. How will this make your life better?

Can you see yourself in six months if you change? In a year? Will you look different? Feel different? Dress differently? Act differently? Will you be thinking about yourself differently?

How will others react to you if you change?

Price of not changing

And think of the price of not changing. 

How will you feel if you don’t make any changes? How will you look, act, dress then? Where will you be in your life in a year, 5 years or 10 years if you don’t change?

What stops you from moving forward?

Time, money, energy, living situation, work, relationship issues? All of these?

What are you telling yourself about your ability to change?

Are you willing to believe you’re capable of change? That you’re capable of more than you realise?

It’s all in the planning

Work out why you want to change. Only then, look at how you’re going to change.

Half the battle is over before you lift a finger – if you plan well.

Learn to set the right goals, record your progress, and cope with setbacks as you move from contemplation to preparation for change.

And finally, stop ignoring problems and take action! Move from the contemplation stage of change to preparation for action. 

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