What are the ingredients necessary for change? Why does change happen? How does someone who has smoked for dozens of years quit - finally? My friend smoked through 2 collapsed lungs - even sneaking out of the hospital to smoke during one of those episodes. Someone he knew was diagnosed with cancer and he still didn’t quit - even as he was around while she went through chemo. That person then went into remission but when he saw her several months later, she told him the cancer was back and she had been given about 6 months to live. That was it for him. He bought some nicotine replacement gum and never smoked again.
For some people, change happens when something “shocks” them into changing. Like a doctor telling someone to lose weight or they’re going to die. Or someone being told by their employer that they need to stop drinking or they’ll be fired.
But more often it’s small things that lead people to make a life-altering change. Why and exactly how that change is made is a source of debate and study that experts still don’t have THE answer to, otherwise everyone could and would be able to make those changes.
There is a stages of change model out there that seems to work well in helping people to try to understand where they are at. It was developed in the late 1970's and early 1980's by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island.
Stage 1: Pre-contemplation: This stage is true denial - the person does not believe anything is wrong and there is no need to change their behavior at all.
Stage 2: Contemplation: This is the stage where many people live their lives. They know that their behavior is at least a minor problem. There is a desire to change, but also a desire to NOT change. People in this stage weigh the pros and cons of the effort it takes to changes versus the consequences of staying right where they are.
Stage 3: Preparation: In this stage the person has started to make plans to change. This might involve getting the paperwork to join a gym. It might mean gathering healthy recipes. Making an appointment with a doctor to get a nicotine patch. Getting a list of AA meetings - the person has made a decision to change and is getting ready to start their change.
Stage 4: Action: The hardest stage! Putting your money where your mouth is. Actively working on the change. Implementing the tools gathered in the preparation stage. Eating healthier, exercising, not smoking or drinking - whatever behavior the person is trying to change, they are actively working on it.
Stage 5: Maintenance: The person is in this stage has integrated their new habits into their lives. It is an ACTIVE stage though - which means the person is not just coasting, but actively works to maintain their new lifestyle. That means recognizing being at risk for relapse and making plans to deal with that - like attending more Narcotics Anonymous meetings during stressful times
While not technically a stage of change, Relapse has to be mentioned. It can happen at any time and usually does, not matter what behavior we are talking about. It involves falling back into old habits and old behaviors.
Relapse might throw a person all the way back to contemplation - I’ve had moments of this - the “fuck it it’s not worth it!” moments. Or it might be a quick throwback and the person gets right back into action and then rapidly into maintenance.
Where do you think you are right now? Are you a happy maintainer? Are you in action? Are you thinking about changing, but haven’t really done anything about it yet?
This is the time of year when many people are in the preparation stage. They have decided to make a change and are gathering information and tools, but haven’t really started making any real changes yet. Many people won’t until January 1st.
If you fall into that category, that’s great! I would encourage you to use this time for practicing - not fully committing to a complete lifestyle change, but trying it out. If you’ve decided your going to stop smoking in the New Year, try not smoking one of the times you always do - like after dinner. Just skip ONE cigarette and see how it feels. Going to join a gym? Great! Pick a night and do 1 20 minute workout video without any other expectations - even give it a half-assed effort but try it out! Pick one weeknight and make a healthy recipe you’ve never tried before.
This will help psych yourself up and give you a running start when the big day hits!!
Where do you see yourself today?