Small Step – Understand the Process of Change
Change is an interesting thing because a lot of us are hard on ourselves and we think that when we decide to change we should be able to do it instantly. But, that’s not the case. Many times, when we decide to change something about ourselves we are looking square in the face of a habit or pattern that we’ve had for decades. For us to expect ourselves to be able to change that in an instant is unrealistic. That expectation is like trying to turn a cruise ship 180 degrees in five minutes, it’s not going to happen. Change takes time, it takes perseverance, it takes patience, it takes gentleness with self and it takes commitment.
When you begin the process of change sometimes the change will not be evident right away, but over time the change begins to take hold and eventually blossoms into the desired outcome.
The first step of change is awareness. You must first become aware that there is something that you are doing or being or something in your life that you want to be different. This stage could last a day, a week, a month or longer, depending on how motivated you are to move forward, but you won’t begin to move until you acknowledge that there is something you want to change.
The second step of change is that you begin to notice and observe yourself doing that thing that you no longer wish to do. For example, I have had a bad habit of being judgmental in my life and it’s something that I want to change. This is a habit that I’ve inherited from my past and from generations that have come before me. It’s so ingrained in my psyche that for many years I didn’t even realize it was there. I now know that judgement is 100% about not feeling good enough and therefore I understand that when I judge someone else, I am projecting my insecurities out into the world. As I’ve gained this understanding I also realize that this judgement separates me from others and contributes to feelings of loneliness and isolation. So, as I set out to change this habit of being judgmental I must start to become aware of myself doing this in my daily life. I have to notice how I judge the person in front of me in traffic as being incompetent. I then have to notice how I judge the person buying junk food in front of me at the grocery store as poisoning their children. I then have to notice how I judge a coworker for being selfish and wanting to take all the credit for the success of the team….and on and on and on. This is not a fun step because it can be overwhelming to observe where we are currently and where we want to be, but it is a necessary step.
The third step takes place when you begin to notice that you are doing that thing that you’ve always done a little bit quicker. When before you might have done something and then thought about it 24 hours later or even a couple of hours later, now you begin to notice it sooner. In the example above I may not have noticed that I was judging someone until weeks or even months later, but now that I know this is something that is not serving me and that I want to change, I begin to realize that I was doing it less than an hour ago. I begin to notice that I’m not feeling very good and when I check in with myself to figure out why I realize that I was just engaging in the old, negative pattern of judging again. This is the point where many people begin to get really frustrated with themselves, so it is really important to understand that this is a natural stage in the process.
During the fourth step of the change process you begin to notice that you are engaging in the unwanted behavior right when you are doing it. You’re actually watching yourself do what you don’t want to be doing, but you seem powerless to do anything about it. In this stage we can often beat ourselves up even worse and believe we aren’t capable of change; but the truth is, we’re almost there. If we will just hold on and keep going we will turn the corner and be able to catch ourselves before we act.
Then we move into the fifth stage where we finally catch ourselves in the act and STOP our behavior right before we act. Sometimes we might even stop mid-sentence and say “never mind, I don’t want to go there,” or something to that effect. This is when the boat has completely turned and is now ready to go in the opposite direction. Now it just about moving forward and gaining speed.
The sixth and final step is mastering our habits and making lasting change. This is a process as we move from just catching ourselves to not even participating in the behavior in the first place. This is the point where we release unwanted habits and embrace the lasting change that we seek.
The process of change is complex. It can take place in a very short time period or it can take quite a bit of time. But if we understand the process, we can have faith, patience, and grit knowing that we are capable of moving through the stages and create lasting change in our lives.