How We Can Change (By Accepting Our Setbacks)

The winter months, particularly the time around new year’s eve and after, often stimulates a desire to change something in our life for the better. New exercise regimen, new diet, renewed focus on some hobby - any adjustment we feel we can make in order to correct our perceived imbalances. You are either willfully or passively experiencing any number of personal changes over the course of your service. The idea of choosing to make a change first can be exhilarating, but can quickly lead to feelings of being overwhelmed or otherwise underprepared to do the work necessary to see the change through, which can then lead to feeling down on ourselves because we do not feel we can realize the change that we want to see. 

But the process of undergoing personal change doesn’t have to be frustrating, as long as we understand that undergoing change actually moves us through a predictable cycle - most importantly, a cycle that includes occasional failure. YES. Failure is OK! We probably won’t get it right the first time; we will try to change and fail. At first. And this is not only “fine", but it is expected and necessary for eventually changing what we do.

Introducing the Cycle of Change, a theory developed in the early 1980s by the psychologists Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska, two researchers who intensely studied those who are struggling with addiction and alcoholism. DiClemente and Prochaska realized this theory could be applied to anyone making an intentional behavioral change and updated this to a model that is now applicable to any individual who is trying to change ingrained behavior.

At the beginning of the cycle (pre-contemplation), we are acting in a manner that is unpleasing to us in some way, yet we are unwilling to do anything about it. When we begin to entertain the idea that we might need or want to change whatever this behavior may be (contemplation), we still are not ready to put that thought into action. So we plan to change our behavior (preparation) by pumping ourselves up and setting the conditions to act on our intentions, and eventually we are able to put that plan into motion (action). We will make this plan happen for as long as we can (maintenance).

If everything went by our plan, “as long as we can” is forever. Happy ending, congratulations!

But for some of us unlucky folks, no matter how hard we try, something knocks us off track. Maybe we revert back to our previous behavior once. Or more than once. Could be a small relapse, could be a big one, but either way it’s the same: we’re back at the beginning of the loop again.

And not only is that just fine, it’s more than fine. Because now we have life experience to know we can take the steps necessary to make our lives into what we want them to be. We have to once again start towards the beginning of the change cycle (contemplation, preparation, or action), but with more knowledge and more energy than before. 

The key here is understanding the energy that we experience after a relapse. We can either view relapse as a positive or a negative. If we view relapse in a positive light, we can learn from it, get right back on that horse and start the cycle again. If we view it negatively, we will be discouraged in our ability to change ourselves in ANY way, and it will put a dent in our confidence going forward.

So as long as we realize that relapse is normal, and that with relapse comes knowledge and the ability to continue the process of change at a higher level than when we started, we should see this as a positive in our personal development. Use that energy for good. It's a matter of altering our perception, which is hard - but entirely possible, if we work at it regularly and incrementally.