Thursday 22 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Psych yourself up with six steps to getting change right in your head

We've turned November on its head by asking some of our top writers to resist hibernating, and instead do the complete opposite and face up to their fears -John learning to swim, Gemma doing slacklining, and Brendan smiling, while health guru Dr Ciara Kelly looks at the psychology behind change

Brain power: Ciara looks at the psychology of introducing change in our lives. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Brain power: Ciara looks at the psychology of introducing change in our lives. Photo: Gerry Mooney

So last week our intrepid columnists decided what life change they would embrace for the month of November, and as well as reading about their processes we await the possibly unexpected outcomes of their endeavours. Usually, I like not to get too academic in my musings here, but this week I'll talk about the psychology of change.

One of the simplest models is the Wheel of Change by Prochaska and DiClemente. In this, change is broken down into a series of stages: Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Relapse. Which leads us nicely back around to Pre-Contemplation again (see chart). This cycle contains the six steps we go through when we attempt to make any behavioural change or break any bad habit. Although, truth be told, I'm not all that fixated on breaking bad habits, as I think undertaking a positive is as important as undoing a negative - which is why I really like Brendan taking up smiling.

Pre-Contemplation is when you're not thinking about changing at all. This is usually either because you're in denial about things, or it could be an ignorance-is-bliss kind of stage where you genuinely are tootling along with no thought of changing anything. Mind you, if you're happily tootling, maybe you don't need to change anything. Normally, to get out of this stage you will need an external prod from someone suggesting you might need to consider making a change. That isn't always well received, but if it comes from a voice you trust it's worth having a think about.

Tip: Occasionally evaluate your own life to see if you feel there are areas that can be improved.

Next is Contemplation, where you finally admit that you want something to change but you probably feel conflicted about it, arguing back and forth with yourself about whether you should change; whether you can or whether you can't actually do this. This is the stage where you have to overcome your own personal barriers to change and challenge the obstacles that you'll put in your own way.

Tip: Recognise that we all undermine ourselves. Don't allow yourself to be put off - by you.

Preparation. This is where you set your goals and think about what you need to do to achieve them. Maybe you'll experiment and take a few baby steps even. You gear up for change at this stage.

Tip: Make a plan - even if it's loose - about what you want and what you need to do to make it happen.

Now you will hopefully have arrived at Action, where you actually take that leap: even though you're scared and you don't really know if you can do it, you do it anyway. You need to take some kind of action in order to actually achieve anything. And even though there are risks and the fear of failure will kick in, there are also great rewards at the very least in terms of your self-confidence from leaving your comfort zone and just going for it.

Tip: Force yourself to take action no matter how many times you tell yourself you can't.

Maintenance is next, and truthfully this is easier than action because continuing is always easier than changing. A great pal of mine says: "When there's something you want to make yourself do, it's like watching a train go by. It's hard to jump on to that train, but, once you're on board, it's easy to stay on it."

Tip: Keep repeating the new actions until they become automatic and second nature.

Relapse. It's really important you know this happens, because you'll feel like you've failed - but you haven't. You just need to identify what triggered the slip and learn to avoid it. Your personal barriers to change are probably still self-sabotaging you and you need to tackle them. The big thing here is to get straight back on the wheel as fast as you can and keep going. Getting lost in the wilderness of Pre-Contemplation makes it harder to maintain and achieve real change in your life.

Tip: Expect to fail, and see it as a bump on the road - not the end of the road.

This is what's going on in your head when you attempt to take on something new, and although these psychological models are sometimes a little hard to relate to, it's not a bad idea to see where you are on this wheel and have a think about trying to progress to the next stage - with the ideal being staying in the maintenance phase for as long as possible.

Now you've gotten your head around all of that, it's just about putting it into practice.

Next week we'll be talking about how to tackle making changes for the better in your work life. Best of Luck. @ciarakellydoc

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