All this talk about change: stages of change, processes of change, change talk…
How does a person step into and make lasting change? By tapping into what motivates them.
Remember I asked about the thing you had considered changing but had not yet done so. How long have you thought about it? Where are you in terms of stage of change? What kind of language do you use when you think and talk about this change? Are you still ambivalent, preparing, or have you moved into mobilization?
When I have conversations about behavior change with my clients, particularly related to health behaviors, there are lots of questions I ask them to help them think more about what their motivations to change are such as, “What would be the most important reason to make this change?”
Oftentimes other people asking us to make a change impose their agenda upon us. For example, a physician might tell us to eat healthier and get more exercise so we can lower our cholesterol and control our blood sugar. Those are legitimate reasons to do so and yet so many people do not follow through. Why? Because the doctor’s reasons for making the change do not align with our reasons. A discussion about changing behaviors related to health that might have more impact would be to get the person talking about their goals, values, and dreams related to life and health. My mom wants to live to be at least 100. I hope to one day have grandchildren and I want to be active and healthy so I can run around and play with them. Someone else may want to travel and see the world. Different people have different reasons for making the same change. Some examples of questions that might uncover these reasons are as follows:
• What things are you struggling to do currently but wishes you could do because you have not made the change?
• How would life be better five years down the road if you make this change?
• What will life look like in five years if you don’t make this change?
• What are the three best reasons to do this?
Another approach is to have the individual talk about past successes in making change and how to overcome any barriers to making the change right now.
• How have you made other changes in your life in the past?
• What things have you done in the past toward making this change and how were you successful?
• What things stand in the way of doing this and how might you overcome them?
In keeping in mind the stages of change, it is often necessary to consider preparation. Remember change is a process and some changes require much more preparation and take longer to make. I don’t just decide today that I want to lose 20 pounds and wake up tomorrow morning 20 pounds lighter! Lots of preparation takes place in the form of changes in diet, increases in physical activity, and even then progress is slow.
I learned a while back that even skilled hikers whom have prepared extensively to climb Mt. Everest still have quite the journey ahead of them once they arrive in Nepal at the foot of the mountain. They don’t arrive and immediately climb straight to the top. They spend weeks on the mountain often taking daily jaunts going back and forth but not really making any progress up. Why? To acclimate themselves to the altitude and harsh environment. Progress requires preparation and that may take many shapes and forms. Someone seeking to become healthier may need some time to acclimate to the changes. They may need a support system to guide them along the way.
• What kind of support system do you need in place to make this change? How can you make that happen?
• What would have to happen in order for you to do this?
Something else to consider is what one person is willing and able to do may be very different than what others are willing and able to do. I used to work for a primary care medical residency. Our medical residents, fresh out of medical school were eager to impart their knowledge to their patients and they were more than ready to let all their patients know about the importance of eating healthier and getting more exercise. Makes perfect sense! However, upon arrival to their new training assignment our residents were taken on a community “ride along” and what they discovered was that there were some very real challenges to this poor community regarding diet and exercise. The area was what was known as a food desert. There were limited grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables and these were not centrally located. Many of the community members did not have reliable transportation if they had transportation at all. They often relied on public transportation and that makes grocery shopping difficult. On the other hand, convenience stores, fast food, and liquor stores lined every corner and were within walking distance making unhealthy eating very convenient. As for exercise, much of the area lacked sidewalks for safe walking or bike riding, and many people feared walking in their neighborhoods because of crime. While there were some parks, even these were not always safe, nor were they located close to some of our patients’ neighborhoods. If these individuals were going to eat healthy and exercise it was going to require a lot of preparation and some creativity on their part to make it happen. Our residents learned it wasn’t enough to tell their patients, “You need to…” They came to understand there were some very real barriers to engaging in healthy habits.
Finally, when someone agrees it is time to make a change and they have expressed willingness to do so, rather than jump to outlining sour own plan for them one of the very best questions to ask is , “So what, then, is your first step?” Remember, whose idea is the best idea? The person making the change! So if they’re going to make the change, ask them how they plan to do it! You might be surprised. It might not be how you would approach it, but if it works for them, let them run with it. And they will find out soon enough whether it’s going to work. And if not, it’s not failure, it’s just a lesson learned about what not to do!
These questions are just scratching the surface of how a change conversation might occur with me in a client session. In fact, we would explore some of these questions in much greater depth over time depending on how serious the issue is. Sometimes, particularly depending on the stage of change the individual is in, the conversation might be short and sweet. The person may have just needed to speak the decision out loud and have someone hold him/her accountable. And sometimes people need to uncover the underlying issues that prevent them from moving forward and these can be varied and complex.
The goal of change conversations is to uncover the discrepancy between where someone wants to be versus where they are now and highlight that discrepancy. Back to my running example: On the one hand, I say I want to run faster, run stronger, and fit back into my size six skirts, yet on the other hand I don’t run as often as I should. Why do I not do what I say I want to do? I know what has worked for me in the past and that is a good support system, running partners, and/or some type of competition or accountability. I am currently lacking those things. In order for me to step into that change I would need to figure out how to incorporate those things where I am now in life.
So before being critical of yourself or others for not moving forward in a change, take a moment to step back and consider that different people have different reasons for making changes, even similar changes. Also, different people have different motivations, different goals, dreams, and values. Real change has to tap into what is most important to the individual and aligns with what that person feels he/she is willing and able to do.
Are you thinking about a change you would like to make? Would you like for me to facilitate that conversation? Schedule your walk-and-talk session with me today. You can reach me at 404-895-1525 or Denice@WalkAndTalkAtlanta.com. I also have office appointments or online sessions (for Georgia residents).