Why do I need to change? When you’re stuck

Fluffy fat ginger cat lying on its back fast asleep

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Why are some people aware they need to change, and yet others have no idea? If you don’t think you have a problem, you won’t give a moment’s thought to doing anything differently. You’ll say to others, “Why do I need to change?” You’re stuck at the precontemplation stage of change.

Readiness to change

Your readiness to change is affected by lots of different things. But what if you don’t even think you have a problem? 

Introducing Brian

We first saw Brian when we were discussing why it’s so hard to change.

At 54, Brian doesn’t care that he’s 40 kg overweight. He adores foods laden with fat, salt and sugar. Sausage rolls, meat pies, burgers, fish and chips, chocolate and cakes – you name it, he loves it.

And he loves washing it all down with craft beers when he’s watching football, motor racing and the rugby. And swimming. Or figure skating. Even horseracing. He’s not fussy.

In addition, he’s a heavy smoker.

His doctor and family have warned him for years he’s at risk of heart problems, diabetes and various cancers. But he relies on medication to keep down his cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“Aren’t these drugs meant to keep us healthy?” he asks, reaching for the soft drink.

His kids have begged him over and over to stop smoking. They don’t want him to die early. He scoffs at their worries. In his mind, he’s bullet proof.

Precontemplation: first stage of change

Brian is a good example of someone at the first stage of change. He’s at the precontemplation stage – when a person doesn’t even consider the need to change. 

What’s it going to take to make him realise?

The cycle of change model

The cycle of change model was developed by Prochaska and di Clemente.

People seem to move through a series of stages when they make changes. These stages are given the names of: 

Precontemplation
Contemplation
Preparation
Action
Maintenance

We’ll be learning in more detail what each of these means in further articles. 

Actually, the number of stages vary according to who defines them. Some researchers also add a termination stage.

And some critics don’t believe people move clearly through stages like this. But it seems to make sense to most people.

They can see how it describes their experiences. So it’s useful to show how the change process unfolds. Just remember it may be less useful for complicated situations involving many problems.

That’s because there are so many different factors to take into account.

We also tend to move from one stage to the next, and then slip back again. 

The process of change isn’t necessarily a nice, even journey from the start to finish. Not that the process of change ever really finishes in reality. 

1 Use in everyday life

However, the model can be useful in everyday life. It can be applied to common behaviours such as:

Learning to be assertive.
Reducing criticism of yourself or others.
Becoming a more effective parent.
Reducing perfectionism.
Taking control of your finances.
Learning life skills.

2 Each person is unique

Since each person is unique, everyone is at different levels for different behaviours. And they work through change at different rates, and for different reasons.

That’s why one approach won’t work for everyone at the same time, even for the same behaviour like smoking.

You may have several behaviours you want to change over the long term.

It’s tempting to work on everything at once. After all, you’re impatient to get your life sorted. And it would save time, right?

Unfortunately, probably not.

3 Change takes a lot of energy

If you try to do too much at once, you’ll end up exhausted. You’ll lose track of what you’re trying to do. And you won’t see much progress in any one area.

Trying to do too much, too soon is one reason most people give up.

4 Focus on one area at a time

Focus on one behaviour you want to change.

Some people have lots of things they want to change about themselves. They’ll find it easy to pick one area to work on.

But what if you don’t believe you need to change at all? Or if you know you need to change in one area, but you’re unaware of an even more serious issue?

Where are you at the moment?

Are you in Precontemplation?

Unfortunately it’s sometimes hard to recognise your own unhelpful behaviours. You don’t believe you have a problem with some aspect of your life. And that means you’re blind to the need to change. 

Perhaps others have said you work or exercise too hard, worry too much, don’t eat enough, are too blunt in the way you speak, and so on.

You probably don’t believe these comments. So you dismiss them

However they may hold some truth. You may benefit from keeping an open mind. Others may well be correct – from their point of view. 

Like most people though, you’ll probably ignore what’s been said – at least for some time. Then something may trigger you into taking a closer look.

After all, everyone has a blind spot

Our friend Brian is totally unaware of the need to change his health habits.

He’s forgotten how great it felt to be fit and active. He used to love bushwalking and sailing. But over the years, as he had more work responsibility, he gave it all away. Then the kids came, and money was tight. So he stayed home and watched TV.

Brian’s in the precontemplation stage of change.

If you’re in Precontemplation:

You’re not ready to even consider the need for change.
You don’t accept or recognise a problem in some aspect of your life.
You don’t see why others are worried either.
You have little insight as to how your behaviour is unhelpful.
When you compare yourself to others, you’re doing OK.
But you don’t realise they may also have a problem.

So what’s the best approach to take if someone is in the Precontemplation stage of change?

Best approach for Precontemplation stage 

1 Give the facts

The doctor and Brian’s’ family can only give him the facts. It’s important they do this without any judgement.

Brian may or may not take any notice. He may continue as he is for many more years. After all, no-one can force him to change.

However a few short, sharp facts about what’s in store if he ignores his health may trigger interest. He may follow up if the opportunity is offered.

2 Change perspective

Changing Brian’s perspective may be helpful. The doctor could ask him to describe the situation from his family’s point of view. If Brian can visualise his kids struggling without his help, he may change his mindset.

The GP could also ask him to describe his condition in 5, 10 or 15 years if he doesn’t change.

Up till now, Brian’s avoided ever thinking of the future. But this exercise might force him to admit he’ll be in a bad way some years down the track.

3 No pressure

Most families or close friends do put a lot of pressure on others to change. However this isn’t useful. Most people resent being forced to do something they don’t want to do. So they’ll only do it half-heartedly.

4 The person must choose for themselves

Of course, Brian may not take any notice of the pros and cons of changing. He may continue to ignore the facts of his likely early death. He’s already been in this stage for years.

But any decision he makes has to be his own, in his own time. This may be annoying or hurtful for others, but it’s the way it is. 

So if you want someone else to change, don’t put your life on hold while you wait for them to make a move. Live a life as full and rich as possible until they catch up. 

And if you’re the one who needs to change – try to acknowledge what you’re missing out on by remaining stuck.

5 Get rid of magical thinking 

At present, Brian prefers to believe medication will completely fix his health issues.

This is magical thinking.

After all, he knows others who’ve dropped dead from heart attacks at his age, and they’ve been on plenty of medications. But somehow he thinks he’s immune. It’s not going to happen to him now or in the future.

6 Recognise avoidance of reality

Brian’s also a master at avoiding health information on TV or in the media. He quickly changes the channel or website to smother that unpleasant twinge of fear. He avoids anything that might shake him out of his ignorance, and reveal the dangers of his health habits.

He’s not about to upset his lifestyle any time soon.

7 What will it take to face reality? 

Possibly the only thing that’s going really make a difference is a crisis. A close friend or Brian himself may face a health crisis. Or perhaps his insurance company will refuse to insure him for overseas travel.

What will the turning point be?

What’s going to move Brian from ignorance to considering he’s in trouble? Will he remember the active life he once had? Can he imagine himself fit and energetic again?

We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

How about you?

Do you suspect you’re in the precontemplation stage of change?

Which habits or behaviours are you thinking of? (They don’t have to be health issues – they can be any type of behaviour.)

What makes you think you need to change? Have others shown concern?

What information or knowledge about your behaviour are you avoiding?

Where will you be if you don’t do anything? In six months, a year, 5 years?

What would make you face reality?

How bad would it have to get? How can you stop avoiding the issue?

Take one tiny step today

Write down a few words about what you suspect may be a problem. Then think – what information would help you decide if you really need to change? Is there someone trustworthy with the right knowledge that you can talk to?

Can you find credible information in the library or on trusted websites? That is, on websites run by well-established institutions such as reputable government, health, scientific or business communities.

Do you care enough about your life to move to the contemplation stage of change?

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