I wish there was one magical thing I could say that would make making changes easier- but I can’t. Making changes or working through transitions can be scary, even if we know that they could benefit us in various ways, there is something comforting about consistency. What happens when you think you want to make a transition but aren’t sure? Here you’ll read a bit about how to consider all options, remember change is typically never final, and learn a bit about the process of change.
Weigh It Out: Pros and Cons
Ambivalence is a term used to describe feeling unsure that one way is better than another. That might be one reason you’re stuck. You might be stuck due to fear of negative consequences. Perhaps you’ve considered making some life changes, but you’re not quite ready for the action. Well, that age old advice of writing out pros and cons is something that us in the mental health field call engaging in a decisional balance. Most therapists are going to urge a person to explore these pros and cons when a person is considering change. This technique is helpful when you are considering change but are unsure or feel like one side of the change is overwhelming, scary, or bad. I love demystifying the process of therapy and so the secret of having a successful decisional balance is having another person highlight outcomes that may not have been thought of independently. In other words, talk out all the pros and all the cons with a trusted friend, family member, religious leader, or therapist. Exploring all possible outcomes can help you make a decision that you feel both hopeful and confident in. Moreover, having another person present to supportively challenge any irrational thoughts of beliefs may help the one overwhelming side feel less overwhelming. Either way, engaging in a decisional balance is especially helpful if impulsive decisions are something you have a tendency for since change is scary. Contemplating both pros and cons is something that any serious decision should stand. Another piece of advice when making a big decision is remembering that rarely anything is final.
Keep In Mind: Nothing Is Final (Typically Speaking)
Although we think or feel like something will last forever, most things aren’t final, except for death. If you make a transition that is difficult or things didn’t go as planned, you can modify what it is that you have done. Something might be harder than others to modify- like deciding that ending a relationship wasn’t a good choice and now the other party isn’t willing to engage. But you can modify your behaviors next time you start to think breaking up or separating is a good idea. Remember that if you take a change and try something, and then it doesn’t work the first time- inspect what went well and what didn’t go so well and try something adjusting.
Reflect- What Are You Really Afraid Of?
Would I really be a therapist if I didn’t suggest reflection on your feelings?! Answer this question: what is stopping me from making this decision? Better yet, answer this question: what feeling is coming up that is stopping me from making this change? This is something we typically end up exploring in individual therapy. For example, you can tell your friends that you don’t want to move because it costs too much money, but what does it mean to spend your money? Maybe you grew up watching your parents struggle financially for what they had and you learned that money is precious. Therefore moving would make you feel guilty for spending something that people struggle for. Guilt is a trigger for you and so you may be afraid of feeling that way. Reflecting on your internal experience and what it means can help shed some light if you are feeling stuck in making a transition. Once you’ve learned what is stopping you, you will be able to see a clearer picture of what transition you are appraising and can make an informed decision.
Know where you’re at
I think that half of the battle of change is knowing where you’re at. One of my favorite models of all time (actually used often with understanding addiction- just fun fact!) is Prochaska and De Clemente’s Transtheoretical Model of Change (1982)- also known as their stages of change model. It may sound like a mouthful but hang on and I’ll break it down for ya. The model is a stage model that is a circle because they recognized change is often very hard and people relapse back into old patterns of behavior. Since it’s a circle there isn’t really a “first” stage, but we will call pre-contemplation first stage. Pre-contemplation is when a person is engaging in a behavior and they are not considering change at this time. Let’s use an example- you are experiencing angry outbursts while waiting in lines. In pre-contemplation you have no desire to address your anger. Maybe you think it’s not productive, but there is not enough internal or external motivating factors for you to need to consider change yet. Pre-contemplation is just that; before you begin to consider change.
The second stage in the stages of change model is contemplation. Contemplation stage is when you’re considering change. Considering might be when you’re doing your pros and cons which was discussed earlier. You may daydream about different outcomes, but no changes in behaviors have occurred. In our angry outbursts example, you may have recognized that your temper in lines can be a problem. Perhaps you’re a prominent figure in the town and you want to maintain an appearance, or you feel out of control and don’t like your behavior- either way, you want to change. You begin considering different ways you could respond to your anger- such as walking away, taking deep breaths, or consider seeking counseling. Again, this isn’t where implementation of change occurs quite yet.
The next stage is preparation. Some things don’t require a lot of preparation such as choosing to get a trim at the hair place, while others may take many longer steps, such as filing for a divorce. Preparation are behaviors, thoughts, and feelings which allow a person to implement change. For instance, if you decide you want to see a counselor to gain some insight why those lines make you so irritated, preparation might look like calling around to different counseling offices, telling your partner you need to fit the money into the budget to pay for counseling, or asking off time from work to attend counseling sessions. The actual change has not occurred until the next step: action.
The action stage is what we have been waiting for! This stage is where one begins implementing the change they want to see. This maybe going to the counseling sessions and engaging in the reflection of anger when having an outburst. It may look like practicing skills in the line which could help you feeling calmer when you feel the tension rising. This is where change occurs, but it’s not the final step.
The last stage towards progress (but not the final stage) is maintenance. Change over a period of time, or when you’ve relapsed- aka falling back into old patterns- is the hardest part for a lot of people. Maintenance is when the new behavior replaces the old behavior you don’t want anymore. This is when you might still feel tense standing in lines, but you’re not ready to pounce on the first person who gets in your way. Maintenance is hard work as it takes a lot of effort to resist old patterns of behavior. This stage is one that if you’re not actively keeping in check, you’re likely to fall into relapse.
Relapse doesn’t have to be full on back to old patterns of behavior; with yelling angrily at others in line. It can be simpler slips back which are opposite from the desired behavior, like feeling tense and not practicing some deep breaths. Once a person has relapsed, they may begin the cycle again by hanging out in pre-contemplation- or they may snap right back into action. Again, the good thing about this model is that it’s not a destination; it’s suggests that our behaviors are always evolving and so with relapse there can be hope of sustained change in the future.
There are a couple things to keep in mind about this model. First, this wheel is not uni-directional. What that means is that it doesn’t just go from first stage to second and so on. A person can be in action stage and revert to preparation at any time. Another thing to consider is that change can occur rapidly or slowly. You might be in pre-contemplation for months before deciding you need to change a behavior and then over the next week you might fly through the rest of the stages. All of this to say that knowing where you’re at can help shed some light on where you should go. If you’re considering a transition, you can gage where you’re at on the transtheoretical model of change to determine how far you have come and how far you still must go.
Taking a chance and living through transitions are difficult tasks. Knowing if you’re making the best decision for yourself can be blurred when you haven’t fully completed a decisional balance, explored deeper meanings, and feel like the change is permanent. Knowing what stage of change you’re in will help enlighten your experience through your process of change. Change is not easy. Taking a chance is not easy. Doing the things in this blog will not guarantee that you will successfully navigate a change or transition, however, my hope is that it will help you feel a little more at ease and comforted in the fact that you’re making the best decision that you can. If making a change seems daunting even after reading this, contacting us to get set up would be another great change to make! Our team is dedicated to helping individuals take the steps towards where they would like to be in their life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly Lyons | PLPC | Individual & Couples Counselor
Molly is has received her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling at Central Methodist University (CMU). Molly received the Outstanding Student Award rewarded to one person in the graduating class. Molly is a PLPC at The Counseling Hub. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in General Psychology with a minor in Child Development from Central Methodist University directly before enrolling in the counseling program. Prior to pursuing her counseling degree, Molly received an Associates of Science in Early Childhood Education from Moberly Area Community College.
Molly has experience in the Counseling Center at MACC's Columbia campus, providing counseling services for students around the topics of identity crises, school-related stressors, depression issues, and coping with anxiety. Molly has co-facilitated Safe Zone trainings which introduce its members to the LGBTQ+ community terminology and basic information. Molly has also completed on online course in LGBTQ+ Counseling Competencies (College and Career Readiness) through the American Counseling Association (ACA). Molly is an active member of both the ACA and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD).
Molly enjoys working with diverse populations and seeks to always be open to new learning experiences. She works best with individuals who are trying to discover who they are and how they relate to their world, as well as others in their world. Molly believes that a person’s external factors can provide both barriers and resources towards growth and that one must discover these in order to thrive.