We are creatures of habit; change isn’t easy. Yet every New Year’s Eve, we ceremoniously make resolutions of personal change. But, that doesn’t mean we are each in a place to make those changes. Many of us “fail” within a couple months, maybe giving up all together, yet repeat it again a year later. Like I said, we are creatures of habit!
You may have the best of intentions for this new venture, but intentions don’t always materialize. Why? Are you programmed to be stuck in your ways forever? Not at all. Change is a process, one that has been studied extensively. The popular Cycle of Change is modeled after The Transtheoretical Model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s (see below) and now includes the unofficial sixth step/stage, “Relapse.” Any change is rarely a one-and-done scenario and is typically illustrated as a circular model instead of a linear one. As with most things, compliance to implement change can ebb and flow, and that is completely normal and should be anticipated.
Cycle of Change:
- Precontemplation – Unaware there may be something to change.
- Contemplation – Aware there may be something to change.
- Determination – Deciding to make the change.
- Action – Start taking steps to implement change.
- Maintenance – Maintain the change.
- Relapse – Stop implementing the change.
Let’s zoom out and assess a frequently overlooked, yet notable background player in the change process: the narrator (your thoughts). Most of the time your thoughts are on autoplay; they are so habitual it’s like white noise in the background. Taking time to stop and pay attention to those thoughts, becoming aware of what you are telling yourself, is extremely powerful. For example, when instructed to pay attention to your breath without changing it (try it now), it is nearly impossible to not change it because bringing awareness to something lends itself to a change occurring.
Next, let’s assess those thoughts. They can be your built-in cheering squad or a reprimanding voice from the past, both influencing the likelihood of “success” or “failure.” Continue paying attention, noticing any internal sabotage going on, such as “I failed at this,” “I’m unable to change,” “I have to be perfect,” “I’ll never get better” or “Why do I even try?” If you are having such thoughts, now is the time to challenge them and work on rewriting the narrative.
First, come up with a thought that alters the narrative into a constructive and supportive one. For example, challenge “I have to be perfect” with “Being human is not perfect. We are perfectly imperfect and that’s okay.” You can make this up on the spot. It doesn’t have to be perfect. (See what I did there?) It is important to interject the new narrative each time that thought, or a similar one, arises. Do this even if you don’t yet believe it.
Whether you are into full-swing Maintenance, still deciding if you want to make a change (Contemplation), or have already Relapsed, pat yourself on the back; none of this easy. As you take on any change, I want to encourage you to zoom out and assess your internal narrative, making sure it’s a supportive one. Remember that we are creatures of habit and making new ones, including thoughts, may take several attempts. That is okay. In fact, instead of saying to yourself, “I failed,” when or if it does happen, consider a new narrative. Wishing you the best in 2022!
Dr. Jainuddin is a naturopathic doctor at One Life Naturopathic and can be reached at (442) 256.5963. For more information visit www.OneLifeNaturopathic.org.