Why is embracing change a good idea?

Benita Zahn
Benita Zahn (photo by Kris Qua Photography)

Humans hate change. Plain and simple. Even if we don’t like where we are, the thought of moving on can be both frightening and daunting. It’s not a character flaw; it’s human nature. Change is scary.

Even if we’re yearning for change, we often balk at making the move because we know what we have. Research finds we shy away from change because we fear loss of control, fear of the unknown, worry that the new won’t be better than the old—and then we resist doing the work required to change.

It’s often said that “Change occurs when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of changing.” But why wait? Why experience and endure that pain? Isn’t it better to experience the “pain” of change before the pain associated with the need to change becomes unbearable?

How do you know if you’re ready for change? In 1977, researchers James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente created the Transtheoretical Model of Change, which outlines five stages of change:

Stage 1: precontemplation
Stage 2: contemplation
Stage 3: preparation
Stage 4: action
Stage 5: maintenance

Talking with a counselor or spending some quality time reflecting are good ways to test your readiness for change. In precontemplation change may be a fleeting thought. But once you hit the preparation stage, you are making plans to embrace something new. Action is making the change, while maintenance is living the change.

Yes, despite our best plans and intentions we may relapse. Some experts suggest relapse is a sixth stage. Understand that relapse doesn’t mean failure. It provides an opportunity to reevaluate, make adjustments and resume the “change journey.” After all, if change was easy, everyone would do it. Once you achieve your goal and move onto maintenance, you’re no longer making the change; you are living it. So how to change? Here are some steps to get started:

  • Set a goal. Decide what needs to be changed.
  • Make a plan that is SMART … specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. In short, don’t decide to run a marathon in a month. It takes, on average, 20 weeks to train for that run. So you have to decide on the “what” and then break it into realistic steps with an achievable timetable. As the great lyricist Stephen Sondheim wrote, “step by step, putting it together.”
  • Enlist a coach or other support person. Research finds that when we have a partner, we are more likely to stick with and achieve our goals.
  • Review and revise your goals as you proceed. Is the change still relevant? Is it too easy? Can you do more? Do you need more time?
  • Plan celebrations along the way. Waiting until you’ve reached the maintenance stage may be too long to wait. We need encouragement even before we get there. Celebrate the little victories. Perhaps it’s losing the first five pounds of an overall goal of 50 or running a 5K on your way to a half marathon or cleaning out one closet of the home you’re planning to sell.
  • Don’t change because someone says you should. Change has to come from within. Remember when you were a kid and you were told to go clean up your room? Odds are you dug in your heels and became angry. But if you wanted to clean up your mess, nothing could stop you. That doesn’t change as we age.
  • Take stock as we move toward the new year. Do you want 2023 to be a repeat of 2022? Are there changes you’ve been contemplating? Like every great journey, change starts with the first step. Happy travels!

Photo: Woman on steps, iStockphoto.com/lucigerma.

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