How to make real, lasting, and meaningful changes

I’ve recommended a very good book to several people recently and thought I’d blog about it as well. My peeps were either frustrated with their own failure to make a desired change in their lives, or they were helping professionals frustrated that their patients/clients were not making the changes they recommended.

The book is called Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. It has three authors — James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente, all Ph.D. psychology professors who did extensive research on the process of change. They modeled people who had successfully quit addictive and other problem behaviors (drinking, smoking, overeating, procrastinating, and many more).

Through this research, they discovered that successful change has six stages:

  1. Pre-contemplation (denial, ignorance, excuses, distancing, projection, blaming others)
  2. Contemplation (taking the problem behavior seriously, understanding consequences)
  3. Preparation (committing, setting a time frame, making a plan, telling people)
  4. Action (making the change, finding healthy ways to cope)
  5. Maintenance (staying motivated, encountering and weathering crises)
  6. Termination (no temptation, new identity)

The book goes into each stage in detail with tips on what you can do when you encounter problems or get stuck.

Since we all generalize, delete, and distort in our maps of reality, I can pretty much guarantee that this book will contain something you didn’t know enough about, never thought of before, or misunderstood about making a desired change.

The beauty is that you can take any change that you’ve tried to make but did not succeed at, identify the step where you fell down, get a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at that step, and come up with some better strategies and behaviors.

For instance, if you or a client has quit smoking numerous times but failed to “stay quit,” you know you or they need help with preparation and maintenance. Some years ago, this book helped me finally “stay quit” after quitting many times, and I’m no longer tempted at all. I prepared differently and put more emphasis on the importance of maintenance rather than action.

The National Cancer Institute found this program more than twice as effective as standard quit-smoking programs for 18 months. The National Association for Drug Abuse and Weight Watchers (or so I’ve heard) now also use this process.

Here’s my favorite customer review from Amazon.com:

It worked, I think. 
I still haven’t finished the book, but I decided to quit drinking and that was four months ago. Did it work? I dunno, but it sure is worth what I paid for the book.

It’s important to note that although the process has six stages, it is seldom linear. People recycle stages and may spiral through all the stages several times before being successful.

It’s also important to point out that you can use this to improve your game, be it golf, tennis, or surfing.

This book can really be helpful to frustrated change agents — therapists, coaches, health care providers. If you can identify where a client or patient is in their change process, you can actually address their needs much more effectively than just by recommending a change to them. They probably already know they “need to” change. Is it information they lack? Motivation? Support? Do they have problems with self-talk? Avoiding temptation?

Ask them about past changes they’ve made, and assess where they are on making this change. You can intervene more effectively if you know where they are stuck.

As my friend Glenda said recently,

I’ve worked hard at attracting and hanging onto heavy energy.

Now that’s someone in the contemplation stage. She’s getting motivated to experience something else.

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