Change is one of those ambiguous human experiences that can bring up such a contrasting range of emotions within us. Change can be both beautiful or painful, exciting or scary, frustrating or empowering. This makes the concept of embracing change even more elusive and unusual. Why would we want to embrace something that causes us discomfort? It makes sense that our natural tendency sometimes is to avoid or even push it away because of this discomfort. Change can be hard but when we make space for the hard things in our lives to just be, it can allow us to experience the full range of who we are, our experiences, and can even make those feelings a little more tolerable.
So, what is change?
If we are to embrace change it’s important to be able to first define it for ourselves. Firstly, we can view change as a natural part of human life. We can see this process in things like the change of the seasons or even our evolution as a society. Secondly, change may be actively chosen by us, or involuntarily brought into our experiences due to external events that are out of our control such as aging, natural disasters, loss, etc. While these are factual definitions, change is unique for everyone given our subjective experiences. I encourage you to reflect on what change means to you.
Change is also a process. Prochaska and DiClemente’s Transtheoretical Stages of Change Model suggests that there are 6 stages of change which we naturally progress through which include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
Precontemplation – You are either unaware or under aware that a change is needed or even possible. In this stage you are still living in your “normal” which you may perceive as being “just the way things are”. For example, someone with chronic stress or anxiety may be unaware of their symptoms as because they have been part of their experience for so long. They don’t notice their chronic pain or negative thoughts because these are the person’s baseline.
Contemplation – In this stage, a shift in perspective occurs. Something within your experience happens that makes you aware that a new way of being is possible or that a change is necessary for your well-being. You reflect on this possibility and seriously consider making the change but may not have the resources, skills, or support to do so yet.
Preparation – You take meaningful steps towards the change that you desire. In this stage you are accumulating resources and support. Maybe you research the topic more closely, join support groups or communities, or work with professionals that can help support you committing to the change you wish to see.
Action – You’ve done it! You’ve made the change and are beginning to see the effects reflected in yourself and the world around you.
Maintenance – In this stage, you acknowledge the gains you have experienced and take a moment of appreciation and gratitude for yourself. You continue to engage and take meaningful actions to maintain this change which for some people is a lifelong commitment.
Relapse – It’s important to note that relapse is a normal occurrence and will happen for most if not all people. While it may feel like failure or like you are back at square one you now know the process and have the necessary knowledge, supports, and resources to re-commit to your change when you are ready.
Knowing where we are in the process can help us to navigate our change. For instance, if we are in the earlier stages of change, we may not be ready to make a change or accept change in our lives right away and that’s okay! We may need to spend time processing and sitting with our experiences and emotions. Also, while these stages may seem linear, they actually move in an upward cycle. Committing to change in our lives is therefore like muscle memory as we use the skills and resources developed in our initial change we’ve made and apply it to future changes.
So, how can we embrace change in our lives? The answer is going to look different for everyone but here are some tips of how to navigate change with more ease.
1) Reflect on the changes you’ve already made! Because change is a part of our human experience, chances are you have already engaged in the change process and have acquire skills and strengths that can help you through your current change process. Take time to think back to these changes. What did they teach you? What strengths did you display in making these changes that can help you now?
2) Identify your stage of change. Knowing what stage you are in can help you understand where you are at and how to navigate it.
3) Self Compassion! Making a change for the first time can be a completely foreign concept and we are inevitably going to make mistakes and or experience difficulties. Having compassion for ourselves during this process is crucial. Think of it this way, when an infant is learning to walk for the first time and falls down, do we say “Get up you little dummy! You need to do better!”? No, we offer words of compassion and encouragement and maybe hold their hand or give them lots of hugs and kisses.
4) Have gratitude for the change in your life. This may be one of the more challenging aspects of navigating change but one of the most important. Sometimes our tendencies can be to view how change is negatively impacting our lives and fail to see the positives it is bringing about. While change brings about difficult emotions it is still a sign that you are growing, evolving, and engaging in this complex thing we call life.
-Written by Julia Papadopoulos RPQ