How many Mondays are there in your week? I’m sure you can relate to making a decision to “start on Monday” with whatever the goal is. Only to find yourself in the same place on Friday, feeling that Monday never even came. Then we descend down the ladder of guilt and conclude that we’re just not strong enough, or this enough or that enough. But, this is just part of the change process: the stages we go through as we navigate the personal change process.
Without understanding what is actually happening, we find it very easy to label the experience as failure and reinforce a negative belief about ourselves. This keeps us trapped in the disempowerment prison. Refer to the 2nd key about how this cycle works.
This article is the 3rd key in the “Creating Positive Change in Life” series. This key is focused on the understanding of the stages we go through as we navigate the personal change process and how to use it to our benefit. The 1st key was about the importance of knowing what is important to you and why. I also discussed the twin motivators and the importance of our awareness of which wolf we feed that may be keeping us stuck. The 2nd key looked into understanding the barriers that hold you back and how to identify and break through them. Let’s tuck into the process of change now.
THE PERSONAL CHANGE PROCESS
Personal change pivots on us outgrowing our self-limiting thought patterns, behaviours and beliefs that inhibit us from being who we truly want to be. We don’t learn anything by staying where we are in life; we learn “by going from the known to the unknown” (Claude Bernard). Basically, our choices and mindset stand between our growth and stagnation.
There are 6 stages in the personal change process and the trigger to change is discomfort with the status quo.
STAGE 1: AWARENESS AND DESIRE TO CHANGE
The discomfort arises from an awareness that change is required. We either respond to the discomfort by acknowledging upfront that specific life areas need attention and contemplate the change. Or we avoid it all together, which results in that feeling of being stuck. During this discomfort we may experience feelings of discontent, frustration, amongst others. We may not always be aware of what is inhibiting us, and that is why we (should) seek help and embark on a journey of change. If this is the case, our desire to change has exceeded our need to stay the same.
STAGE 2: CONTEMPLATE YOUR COURSE OF ACTION
At this stage we have become aware that there are issues and we feel our greatest fears. We possibly sink into the “worst-fears-mentality” and end up stuck here, undecidedly. Sadly, most people end up living with the discomfort and unhappiness for fear of making the change. This is where we get stuck in the “next-Monday-cycle”. The consequences usually impact our health, careers, relationships and the like negatively.
The habits, behaviours or attitudes that are most challenging to change are those that have rooted in one’s personal identity beliefs. These are our core beliefs about ourselves and how we perceive the world around us. Core beliefs have a direct impact on what you achieve in your life.To make this a bit more practical, let’s look at an example: “I’m not good enough”. There are various permutations of this belief.
Feeling less than and unimportant has a direct effect on your self-esteem and confidence. So, pushing through with that change is difficult if you feel that you don’t really deserve the benefits that will result from the change. Consequently, this belief affects how you see yourself and how you interact with the world around you. During our contemplation our need to change becomes stronger.
But, at this point, really examine why the change is important and what benefits you will gain from the change. Also very important to understand are the consequences of the situation remaining unchanged and your willingness to put up with this. Whether we seek out the help of a professional or embark on the journey by ourselves, these are important questions to reflect on in contemplating the changes.
A PERSONAL REFLECTION
For a long time I struggled with the belief that I am not good enough myself. It affected my ability to grow and go out for what I wanted in life. There was this war within myself: something pushing me to be more, to go out and get it; and this belief holding me back. I felt so disempowered and frustrated. Through my own life coaching and mentorship process, I started feeding the wolf that I wanted to strengthen. Through changing my mindset, getting to know who I am, accepting myself for who I am and accepting others unconditionally, I masterminded my own prison break.
STAGE 3: TAKING ACTION
When we reach this stage we have made a decision to change and we’re committed to seeing it through. We can taste the results already and we’re psyched up. Taking the action required to bring about change in our lives is preceded by research and action planning. We research about what to do to facilitate change in our lives or sometimes we seek out a mentor or buddy or we decide to go it alone.
Then, we put our plans into action. This is where we step out of our comfort zone, feel the uncertainty and embrace the unknown. It is here that our mindset is crucial: if we remain fixated on the discomfort or the unknown, that’s where we remain. However, when we focus on our desired outcomes of the change, we embrace the discomfort or the unknown. There are no magical techniques or words that I can offer you that will make your issues disappear. It takes hard work to create meaningful change in one’s life. You have to be in it for the long haul. Colin Powell phrased it perfectly: “There are no secrets to accomplishment in life. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
STAGE 4: MAINTAINING ACTION
Making a decision to change is one thing, it’s another thing taking the actions needed to make the change happen. This is where your support system is crucial. Your family, a friend or even a life coach often make all the difference in helping you get over the finish line. Maintaining action is the part that will truly test your grit, commitment, perseverance and patience. This is where you get in touch with who you truly are and develop the strengths and skills that you need to become who you want to be. Your support system, whichever you choose to opt for, is what will help you drive and maintain your personal change process, otherwise you end up at another “Monday” in your life.
Making a start and taking action is good. But without commitment and ongoing growth, our old habits have a sneaky way of worming their way back into our lives. Again, our mindset is what will push us through. If we’re trying to bring about change – the new – with an old mindset, we might as well camp at our “Monday” site indefinitely.
Growth and transformation goes hand in hand with a new, flexible mindset. When we’re at this stage, the newly gained change is still rather fragile. Temptation to slip into old patterns is rife and can overwhelm us at this stage. That is why planning, preparation and our support system is crucial to see this stage to completion. Our action plan and priorities (our “why”) serves as our GPS to get us to the desired destination. Remember: “Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” (George Bernard Shaw).
STAGE 5: REGRESSION
From “Mondays” to Snakes-n-Ladders. As bad as it may sound or even feel, regressing is actually part of our learning experience. David Sack, M.D. points out that “relapse is a pivotal part of our learning process. It gives us a chance to appreciate better all of the intricate details about the changes we intend to make.” What does this really mean? You are familiar with the saying: “2 steps forward and 1 step back”. The latter refers to the regression or relapse that we may experience and is not necessarily all doom and gloom. It could just be a momentary lapse of judgement or not being aware of your triggers. Depending on the mindset we find ourselves in, this can be viewed as a pivotal part of our learning process. And indeed an opportunity to appreciate the intricacies of the change we’re making.
After we experience regression, many of us return to the “Contemplate your course of action” stage. This allows us time to reflect, adapt and figure out where our plans, attitudes and mindsets need adjustments. Once we have gained the knowledge, experience and motivation to move forward again with renewed wisdom and insights, we re-enter the action stage.
STAGE 6: MAINTAINING CHANGE
We may go through each stage multiple times as we LEARN. This is the most important part of the change process: LEARNING. By the time we have reached this stage, we may have looped through the cycle several times with valuable insights about who we are. When we are able to maintain the change we have implemented and it’s become part of our mental make-up, we are set to move forward onto the next change.
This implies that the root cause has been eliminated – i.e. the disempowering belief and commitment have been reframe/rewired. At this point, our belief about ourselves will be different. Referring to the disempowering belief mentioned earlier: “I’m not good enough”, you may now believe that “I can achieve whatever I set my mind to and work hard to achieve”. When you tackle your next change project, you are all the wiser and more empowered to see yourself through the personal change process. Your mindset is one of “bring it on, what can I learn next!”
Change is inevitable in life, it’s our decisions that matter most. Yes, change can be complicated. But the pain of remaining in our current state is far greater than the pain of changing. Commitment, careful planning, focus and viewing our change experience as growth, provides a solid foundation for our personal change process. In addition, it increases our growth and chances of successful change exponentially. Understanding these stages can help us deal with the adversities we may face when embarking on change and sustain our growth through the process.
Finally, to summarise the series on how to bring about lasting change in our lives:
The 1st key in this series is about understanding what’s important. Understanding what is important to you and why is the foundation for creating positive change. Also, the awareness of which wolf you are feeding is crucial in helping you focus. Through our thoughts, choices and behaviours, we create the effects in our lives. You might find this article useful.
The 2nd key demonstrates that a lack of willpower is not actually the culprit that prevents us from change. It’s our “emotional immune system” that protects us from the (perceived) negative impacts of change. To create lasting change we need to uncover the hidden blockages. This will allow the obstructions to become visible so we can rewire/reframe them.
And lastly, the 3rd key is about getting to grips with the change process. The stages we go through and how to safely and sustainably navigate change.