What if you want to change, but you’re not quite ready?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been noticing a funny little stick on the pavement on my daily walking route. See the photo above: doesn’t it look like a person setting out on a walk? With a little swing in their step, even! 

Only, day after day, that little stick has sat on the pavement and has not budged, through all kinds of weather, sun and wind and heavy rain and sun again. That stick person is stuck! 

Now, this is not a problem for the stick. It’s just hanging out and being a stick. 

But here’s the thing: that little stick person is also reminding me of myself when I’m trying to get moving on some kind of change I know would be good for me, but I just feel stuck. 

Like the time a few years back, when I suspected I needed to cut back on the amount of caffeine I was drinking. I was dealing with really bad insomnia, and I’d tried just about everything else. But I really, really didn’t want to give up my afternoon cup of black tea!

Or the time I knew I needed to speak up about something bugging me in a close relationship. It felt scary to speak honestly about what was bugging me, because I wasn’t sure we’d be able to resolve it. So I put off the conversation for weeks. 

In each case, I was pretty frustrated and down on myself for not making faster progress. Or any progress, really.  

How about you–does that sound familiar? 

If that feeling-stuck-and-frustrated dynamic shows up in you too, may I share a different way of thinking about it that’s really helped me?

Here’s the concept:

Thinking about a change, before you actually make the change, is actually an essential part of the change process!

Wait, what? 

It’s true–at least according to renowned psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. In their model of how human beings make changes in their lives, there are several stages:

  • Pre-contemplation: Not aware of any reason to make a change. It’s just not on your radar. 
  • Contemplation: Thinking about making a change. You start to see and feel the costs of not changing, but you’re not ready to act yet. 
  • Preparation: Getting ready. You do some research and maybe try out a couple of tiny changes.
  • Action: Making the change! You’re doing it!  

And then a few more stages to maintain and integrate the change into your life. 

If Prochaska and DiClemente’s theory is correct, and it certainly lines up with my own experience, then there is absolutely no reason to beat yourself up for taking a long time to make a change. 

Sometimes it just takes the time it takes. Especially when it’s a big change. And it doesn’t mean you’re unmotivated, or not trying, or a failure, or any of the other unkind labels we can put on ourselves. 

In fact, Prochaska and DiClemente say, if you rush through the “thinking about it” stages of contemplation and preparation, your change probably won’t stick. 

As for me, eventually I did give up my afternoon cup of black tea. It made an enormous positive difference in my sleep almost immediately! I still miss it, some days, but getting better sleep is completely worth it. I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

And in the end, I did have that tough conversation about what was bugging me. It didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped, but I was and am proud that I said what I needed to say. 

So how about you? Whatever changes you’re considering in your life, please, if you need to take your time, do it! Maybe you’re not stuck at all–you’re just getting ready to go, in your own sweet time.

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