Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I am so glad that you are here with me today, and I have a story for you. If you’ve been listening for any length of time, you’re probably aware that I am an introvert. I’m very quiet around my friends and family and I adore quiet spaces, and I know that having some time alone allows me to refresh my energy so I can love on my family. And you guys, I have always been this way. Picture me as a shy, quiet kid up in my room reading books. Friendly? Sure. But quiet.
So you can imagine the surprise when, as a freshman in high school, I told my parents I was signing up to take a public speaking class. A class that would be full of juniors and seniors. A class where you had to get up and give speeches in front of others.
And I actually enjoyed it so much, I got both my undergrad and graduate degrees in Communication and spent almost 10 years teaching public speaking classes for a couple of local colleges.
Now, when we got to the persuasive speeches, one of the things I had to help my students do was to set a goal for their speech. What did they hope to accomplish once they finished speaking? And to do that, they had to be able to identify where their audience, their classmates, were at in the Stages of Change. And we’ll talk about those stages here in a minute, but the reason this was important because they had to figure out a realistic goal for their speech based on where their audience was at.
For example, a popular topic was for a student to try to persuade her classmates to donate blood. Okay, sure, this is something most of us, if not all of us, have heard about. We know it’s good. Yet so many of us still didn’t do it. So the student giving that speech had to try to identify the objections and address those during her speech.
But what if a student had some topic like “the government should spend more money on space exploration”? This topic doesn’t seem to have any relevance to me, so it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. And so instead of actually trying to get us to take action, which was highly unlikely that a 5-7 minute speech, she would need to spend the majority of her time informing us of the issue and persuading us just to start thinking about doing something about it.
So her goal wouldn’t be to get us to sign a petition to declare we wanted a higher budget for space exploration, or to send a letter to our senator or anything like that. It was simply to consider the possibility that we should care about space exploration.
See the difference? This is where the Stages of Change come into play. We’re not ready to take action yet. We didn’t even know there was something we needed to think about.
Let me give you some other examples.
Others use these Stages of Change in business when trying to reach their ideal customers. For example, one financial coach might work with individuals who want to get out of debt, but another works with those already out of debt who are seeking to grow their wealth so they can be generous and support non-profits in their community.
Or think about ethics or spiritual formation, or even just everyday life, when we trying to instill a new habit or discipline. We first have to be convinced that a change needs to happen before we take any action.
But what I’ve discovered is that these Stages of Change also impact our ability to help others, or even to understand our own healing journey. And that’s what I want to talk about today.
Before I explain each stage, I want you to think about a scenario in your own life where you had to change something. It could be your spending habits, it could be your diet, it could be keeping your house clean, it could be starting a morning routine, it could be overcoming addiction or managing depression.
And as I describe each stage, I want you to think about what that stage was like for you. Get out a piece of paper, even, and write it down. Be as specific as you can.
For me, I’ll use the example of starting an afternoon routine as a new mom, someone with a baby who is taking naps during the day.
Stages of Change
Okay, so here are the five Stages of Change.
First, there is precontemplation. In this stage, there is no intention to change. You are unaware that any problem even exists.
For the new mama, this might look like just going through the motions, not really thinking past the next feeding or the next diaper change or even the next load of laundry. Like, you are literally just going through the motions to do whatever needs done, and you haven’t noticed any exhaustion or sleepiness or anxiety yet. Maybe you’re still living in the excitement of having your baby there at home with you.
What is this stage like for you in your story? What are you doing? What are you thinking about? Take a moment and write it down.
The second Stage of Change is contemplation, so this is where you become aware that a problem exists and you start thinking about how you can fix it. Note, at this stage, you are not actually doing anything yet.
For our new mom, she starts to notice that she is totally drained and is starting to get a short fuse with her husband. Maybe she is grumpy with her baby, even, and starts to resent how much time baby takes and the other things she is not able to do because she now has to feed and change and do laundry. She has maybe even identified the afternoon as a key part of her day where things tend to turn upside down. Maybe she starts the day well, but by afternoon, she is just struggling.
When do you notice there’s a problem in your story? What causes you to recognize it? Do you notice it on your own or does someone else call it out in you?
In the third stage, preparation, you start getting ready to take action. Maybe you start researching the issue at hand, finding books or reading articles or listening to podcasts about the thing you’re struggling with. Maybe you reach out to someone you trust and ask them what they did in that situation. How did they handle it?
So in the preparation stage, you’re still not making any major changes yet, but you’re starting to move in that direction. You’re making a plan, getting things in place.
For our new mama, maybe she starts to listen to podcast episodes about being a mom with littles at home or about productivity as a stay-at-home mom, or she reaches out to her friend who has three littles already and asks her for advice. Perhaps she finds a book that has received a lot of positive reviews and seems to align with her idea of parenting, and so she orders that so she can read it.
What does preparation look like for you? Does this stage go fast or slow? What were you doing during this time?
The fourth Stage of Change is action, and that is exactly what it sounds like. You start taking action, start making the change. You start eating healthier meals, you stop doing the addictive behavior, you begin to clean your house on a rotating schedule. And my friend, I want you to know that this stage takes a lot of time and energy. A lot.
You know the saying, “An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest”? Well, you are actually changing directions. You’re either going one way and then intentionally changing your direction, or you’re completely stopped and you’re getting started. And that takes work. It takes energy. It takes drive.
For our new mom, she has pinpointed the afternoons as a key time for her to take a break and get refreshed. And so she begins to take afternoon nap times as her time. She decided not to do any chores, not to do anything related to being a mom, but to do something that gives her energy… whether that’s taking a nap herself, or reading a book, or having a virtual coffee date with a friend, or taking a class.
But it’s hard to make that change sometimes, when she sees the piles of laundry needing to be done, and so she has to block that out of sight or be in a different room. If having a virtual coffee date, she probably needs to have that scheduled with a friend in advance. If she’s taking a class, she has to find the focus to get started and the freedom to stay focused once she’s doing it. And then when afternoon nap is done, she can go back to taking care of baby, and she’s in a better mood and ready to tackle the laundry and other chores.
What was the Action stage like for you? What steps did you take when changing your behavior? How did you feel when you did this? Excited? Tired? Nervous? Take a moment and write it down.
The final stage is maintenance, and in this stage, you are working to prevent relapse. (And actually, some models add in relapse as a sixth stage, assuming it will happen at some point.)
So in maintenance mode, you keep on keeping on. You’re making the meal plan each week or you’re staying away from the things that were addictions for you. You’re persevering, and you probably have some sort of accountability worked in to keep you moving in the right direction.
For our new mom, she has to know that when this one class is finished, she’s got something else lined up, or she’s going to go back into being tired and grumpy and not taking care of herself. Or maybe it means setting up a recurring coffee date with her friend, or when her friend is unavailable, finding someone else to meet up with.
What does maintenance look like for you? How do you keep going in the right direction after you’ve made some big change? How do you keep from getting discouraged when you fall short or backtrack?
Truths to Remember About Change
When it comes to our own healing journey, I hope this helps you see that change takes time. It takes effort. It takes a lot of energy. And often, it can take a lot of support. You need others there cheering you on or holding you accountable, encouraging you when you fall short, speaking life to you.
What is usually not helpful during this time is having someone beat you down with reasons you need to change or insisting you make changes or making you feel like a failure when you relapse a bit.
And so when it comes to our own healing journey, and that of others, here are some truths I want you to remember:
First, you cannot force someone to change. They have to be ready. Something has to click inside of them to want to change. You can give them all the reasons in the world why their behavior needs to change, you can share stories with them, and more. But it has to click inside their heart and mind, and they have to be ready.
And actually, for me, it seems like the harder someone pushes me, the less likely I am to go forward with what they want. Maybe it’s just my stubborn nature, I don’t know. But I know that it often pushes me away from their desired response. Are you like that, too?
So first, you cannot force someone to change. Second, while you can support someone as they make the change, you cannot make the change for them. In other words, they have to be the ones to do the work. You can listen to my interview with Nicole from last week to learn more about that.
For example, if someone needs a job, you can’t actually go and do the work for them and they get the paycheck. They actually have to go and clock in and show up every day, and if they don’t, well… you can encourage them as they find another one, point out potential job leads, etc., but they still need to be the ones filling out the job applications and doing the interview and showing up to work.
And third, our support should look like love, and really, should look like the fruit of the Spirit: gentle, patient, kind, self-control, peace, faithfulness, goodness. When you are looking to support a friend through a change or transition like this, ask yourself what would be most loving for them right now? What is the kindest thing you can do for them—now and in the long-term? How can you speak words of life to them? Words of encouragement? Again, I think my conversation with Nicole from last week would really help you here.
I know how understanding the change and transformation process has impacted how I view my own healing journey, as well as how I support others during difficult seasons. I can’t expect everything to change right away. I know it takes time. And I know they (and I) have to be ready for such change to occur.
And I hope that knowing these five stages helps you in coming alongside those in your own neighborhoods who are struggling. I wonder which stage they might be in right now. Are they in precontemplation, where they don’t even know there’s a problem? Are they in contemplation, where they are trying to figure out what to do to fix the problem? Are they in preparation mode, researching and making plans? Are they taking action, doing the hard work of turning things around? Are they in maintenance mode, striving to persevere and keep moving forward in the right direction? Or are they in relapse, feeling the brunt of failure and frustration that things aren’t going as they had hoped?
How can you best love them during this season? How is God inviting you to support them? I encourage you to take some time and pray about it, and see where He might be nudging you to do something to show them you care and are there for them.
Okay, that’s all for today, my friends. Until next time…
- Episode 43: When Helping Hurts: Establishing Boundaries When Caring for Others with Counselor Nicole Fryling
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