One of my favourite things about being a coach, aside from seeing the progress my clients make after many years of being trapped in cycles of poor eating habits, is the fact that I am constantly learning and developing skills that benefit, not just my clients, but me as well!
I have always known that change isn't linear. My own journey has shown me that to
reach full recovery, it can take many years and many set backs....or learning opportunities, as I like to refer to them as!
But this book has formalised the stages of change in such a simple way that anyone can read this book and immediately identify where they are in their own journey and identify the next stage!
This book asserts that there are 6 stages of change and they are as follows:
Pre-Contemplation: People in this stage have no desire to change. They do not see their behaviour as a problem and think the issue is with those around them who are telling them to change. These people find themselves in treatment programs because they have been forced or coerced. These people are destined to remain the same unless they have a mindset shift. It is important to remember however, that even people who have embarked on a journey to change can find themselves back here....telling themselves there is no point, their problem is too ingrained and is part of who they are.
Read on and I will show you how you can avoid this stage altogether!!!!
Contemplation: This is the stage where people know there is a problem and are aware that things must change, but feel stuck and possibly a bit overwhelmed about what to do next. This stage can last a very long time and can lead to feelings of low self esteem and dissatisfaction. The fear of failure or losing a habit that has once brought them comfort can seem too much to deal with. This can be particularly problematic for those who have attempted change before but have not succeeded. Once the decision has been made to change, the energy of this stage shifts from defeated to energised.
Preparation: THE KEY TO SUCCESS! As the old saying goes. "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail". Although each stage is equally important, it is this stage that people too often try to skip, which only ends up with them landing on a snake and going back down the board!!!!
How often have you decided that enough is enough and the diet starts Monday. You haven't planned, mentally or practically and before you know it, you are starving and demolishing a packet of digestives! Planning requires a level of honest reflection. What am I going to find difficult? Why have a failed before? When am I likely to need additional support from friends or professionals? What is my plan for when/if I fall off the wagon? What am I going to tell myself when things get tough?
Also within this phase I encourage my clients to keep journals, practice mindfulness and visualise their goal. Preparing the mind is absolutely crucial.
Action: Now action is a mentally very busy time.....hence the requirement for mental preparation during the previous stage. DON'T confuse action with change! So many people I work with find they are frustrated that their actions do not immediately resolve the issues they have spent many years struggling with. They still hold on to that misconception that miracles and quick fixes exist......yeah thanks diet culture and social media!!!! Action can take many forms. It can be mindset shifts. Changes of behaviour. Immersing yourself in your goal e.g reading books, joining support groups, journalling. This can be a particularly testing time for relationships and friendships. Some people close to us can feel threatened by our progress, or may wonder why It's still a priority. For me, action is the longest phase because, for many people, particularly those seeking to change deeply ingrained behaviours such as eating disorders, this stage is ever evolving. Often we find we can change physical behaviours, but unhelpful thoughts and feelings linger on. It takes a great deal of effort to change our mindset and patterns of thinking, which is why the action phase can sometimes be exhausting, and can often be where we give up!
Maintenance: If changing was that easy, we would all be walking around living perfectly balanced lives. Let's be honest, part of the human condition it seems, is struggle. Don't be fooled into thinking that once you have reached your goal, you are home and dry. One of the things I promised myself when I got over anorexia, is that I would never go on a diet, or skip another meal! These were fundamental to my maintenance stage. If I had, even once tried to test myself on these things, I have no doubt they could have been catastrophic to my progress. DO NOT TEST YOURSELF! Why would you? It makes no sense, yet many of us find the idea tempting! This phase is for cementing new habits of behaviour and thinking, until the point when they become natural. This can be months and even years! I always say that it took me 5 years to get over my anorexia physically and another 5 years to get over it mentally. 20 years on and I know it is no longer part of me....but I still don't willingly skip meals or go on diets.
Termination: This is the end goal! This is where you want to be. Where you can be tested in any environment and there is no desire to go back to old habits. This phase, for me, is when I look back and I don't recognise the person I was. Everything about that time of my life feels alien. I can talk about my experience now without shame or embarrassment, or even caring what other people think....That took 10 years from when I was fully recovered!! Yes people, that's right. It took me 20 years to get here!!!! I use my experience now to educate and support others. Weirdly it seems to be the only thing that makes sense to me, or else what was the purpose of that awful experience. I appreciate that my example is pretty extreme and many of you might think, "that's not me." Honestly, I hope it isn't you. I suppose what I am trying to say is, if I can get to this place, from having suffered the biggest killer of all MH conditions in the UK and possibly the world, you can too!
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