This Month: The new year signifies a time for change, and yet, it takes time to change.

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Stages of Change Theory:
1. Precontemplation
2. Contemplation
3. Preparation
4. Action
5. Maintenance
Happy New Year!
As we approach the end of December and are drowning in lists of the top ten movies, songs, news stories, celebrity infidelities, etc. for 2011, I wish to bring best wishes for 2012 from Pyxis Counselling Services.  I am looking forward to continuing to build my practice in the new year and hope to be in a different office by mid-January or so - stay tuned for details.  A new calendar year feels like the chance for a fresh start, doesn't it? This month's article is about the process that takes place when we make changes in our lives. 

Time For Change
New Year's Resolutions.  I don't know about you, but just hearing that phrase feels like "New year's thoughts about what I'd like to change but I know I'll try for a few days or weeks and then I'll give up because it's too hard and then I'll feel like a failure and I'll need to eat a bunch of chocolate to feel better but that's what I was trying to stop doing in the first place...."  The reality is, change doesn't happen at the stroke of midnight on the new year just because we wish it to be so.  In other words, this isn't Cinderella.  The process of change takes time and intention in order to last past the end of January.  With some awareness of the steps involved, it can be possible to make significant changes that last.   

Here's an overview of a theory of change using the example of quitting smoking to illustrate the steps. Although I don't smoke, I have worked with many people who do and who have made changes in this area, so I'm speaking from their perspective. (If it interests you, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed this theory at the University of Rhode Island.  Google their names and "Stages of Change" for lots more info).

1. Change? Why would I change? - In the precontemplation stage we are as yet unaware of the need to change.  Before we decide we want to change something, we are fairly content with things as they are.  I might be aware that smoking is unhealthy but I also enjoy it and don't feel ready to commit to any kind of change.
2. On the fence. - At this point, we are contemplating making a change by actually noticing the pros and cons of what we're doing.  Imagine a balance scale with fairly equal amounts on both sides.  Smoking is unhealthy but I really look forward to a cigarette.  It makes it harder for me to do stairs but I also find smoking relaxes me.  And so on.
3. OK already, I'll do something about it. - We have now gotten to the stage of preparation.  The balance weighs more on the cons side, and we have determined that something needs to change.  As a smoker I may set a quit date, try to smoke a few less cigarettes in a day, fully clean out my car so that I'm motivated to not smoke in it anymore, and price out some nicotine patches.
4. I'm on it! - This is the time for action, where we are actively putting into practice all the different strategies or behaviour changes we have thought about or anticipated in the previous stages.  I'm on day 5 of not smoking, I'm using a nicotine patch, I'm looking into joining a yoga class in order to find other ways to unwind, and I've got a friend who is checking in with me every day no matter how cranky I am.
5. Wow, I have really accomplished something. - In the maintenance stage, the new behaviour or change is feeling more and more comfortable and we are managing to prevent relapses to the old pattern on a regular basis.  After a few months of not smoking, I'm feeling more confident in the changes I've made, and the rewards of feeling healthier and better about myself motivate me to get through the times when in the past I would have had a cigarette.

A few other points about this theory:
  • These stages usually happen over a period of weeks and months, depending on when that balance tips more to the cons side and how everything goes from there.
  • This process does not always happen in a linear fashion.  For instance we might go back and forth between contemplating and preparing before moving ahead with action.
  • Relapse, or a return to the previous behaviour, can happen at any time in this process.  This does not mean we have failed to make a change!  The process of change is exactly that - a process.  So a relapse is not failure, it is an opportunity to learn from what happened and make further adjustments.  If I end up smoking at work at the end of the month because it's a stressful time, that tells me I need to have a specific strategy to cope with this trigger.   
Ah, the process of personal change and growth, what an adventure!

As always, I welcome your questions, comments and feedback, so please don't hesitate to contact me.  As well, please feel free to pass this article along to others using the "forward to a friend" option at the bottom of the page.  I do sincerely wish you all the very best for 2012 and look forward to connecting with you again next month.


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