How to change yourself and your life: two working techniques
No coaching or affirmations, just you, pen and paper.
If you have ever tried to embark on a path of change, you must have come across a hundred excuses: not enough time, money, energy or motivation. We offer methods that will help you not to postpone your plans until better times.
Motivational Interview Method
Motivational interviewing is a counseling method developed by clinical psychologists William Robert Miller and Steven Rollnick.
The essence of the method is that with the help of open-ended questions, the "interviewer" helps a person independently find their own motivation. Scientists who adhere to this concept see it as the sum of the desire to change, the willingness to change, and the availability of resources.
You can try the technique not only with a specialist, but also on your own. You will need enough free time, a pen and a notepad.
Stage 1: getting to know
This stage consists in establishing a positive relationship between the "interviewer" and his interlocutor. In this case, both of these roles are performed by you yourself, so let’s move on to the next point.
Stage 2: focus
Recognizing the problem is the first step to realizing what the difference is between reality and the ideal you are striving for. Think about what makes you unhappy or anxious. If you have a trusted friend or relative, brainstorm together. Just make sure he helps you identify your own problems, and doesn’t push his ideas.
Focus on areas such as physical and mental health, work, relationships, social life, finances. For example:
- "I’m overweight."
- "I worry too much about trifles."
- "It’s hard for me to control my expenses."
- "I want to stop yelling at my kids."
As a result, you will identify several problem areas. Assign each of them a score from 1 (rarely disturbs) to 5 (majorly ruins life). For example, if you think about one of the items several times a day, put a 5 in front of it, if once every few weeks – 1.
Now focus on the problems with the highest scores and think about why your life will be better after solving them. Let’s take the examples above as a basis:
- “If I lose weight, my life will be better because it will help me feel more alert and reduce health risks."
- “If I worry less about trifles, my life will be better because I will sleep better and become more productive.”
- “If I stop spending money unnecessarily, my life will be better because I can pay off all my debts and worry less about finances.”
- “If I learn to manage my anger, my life will be better because it will make my relationship with my children happier.”
Now that you have determined the point where you are now and where you would like to be, take a notebook and write down the real situation first, and then the ideal one. This will help you understand where the discrepancy lies for each issue:
Ideal: "If I am, my life will be better because _ ".
Reality: "Currently I am ."
Then consider how big this discrepancy is. If it is small, you are unlikely to be strongly motivated to change. But if the difference is too great, it can be very difficult to get started. Ideally, at this stage, you should identify a discrepancy that is "just right": big enough to bother you, but not big enough to make you want to start making changes.
Step 3: Prioritize and Build Confidence
No matter what area of life your inconsistency is in, the next step is to choose the specific behaviors that you want to work on the most. To do this, the "interviewer" leads a person to a conversation about readiness, desire and ability to change.
The idea is that the more clients talk about their desires, abilities, reasons, and need for change, the more likely they are to commit and take action to achieve their goal. Here are two exercises you can try on your own or with a close friend to boost your motivation.
1 Determine what is most important and why
Set your priorities. One way to figure out how to do this better is to spend some time identifying your personal values.
For each possible change you identified during the focus phase, answer the questions in the chart for yourself. Try to think about the possible impact of each change on different areas of your life. What it will mean for your physical and mental health, work, relationships, social life, finances, sexuality. Take a notebook and write down your thoughts in two columns:
Arguments "For" Arguments "Against" What will I get if the change occurs? What will be good in my life after this change in behavior? What will it cost me to NOT change? What are the consequences if I don’t change my behavior? I will sleep better, I will have more energy for creative solutions and therefore I will be able to get a promotion at work. My health will deteriorate, there will be trouble at work, because I will be dispersed and unproductive. My manager will probably get tired of this quickly, and he will have to fire me.
After listing the arguments, consider: Why are these results important? What values do you hold, what principles of behavior make this future change especially important? These can be, for example, honesty, family, decency, faith, health or responsibility.
Once you’ve identified your core values, think about how your current behavior (which worries you the most) is preventing you from living up to them. How will change in you help you move closer to these values? Try to take your time with the exercise and come back to it a few days after doing it: your point of view may change.
2 Build confidence
The previous exercises have helped you identify the specific problem or current behavior that is bothering you the most right now. But you may still feel unprepared for active change. Some days you may have more self-confidence, others less.
If determination is lacking, you may underestimate the importance of change and feel like you want to give up trying. Usually at such moments, thoughts arise in the spirit of “This is too difficult”, “I don’t have time” or “There is nothing I can do about it “.
To keep your confidence going, you need to spend some time reflecting on your strengths, past successes, and sources of hope and inspiration.
- Determine your strengths. Characteristics of people who successfully change their lives include creativity, resourcefulness, perseverance, and a penchant for adventure. You can ask loved ones to help and share what they see as your strengths. How can these qualities help you achieve the changes you want?
- Recall the times when you were able to change something in yourself. What steps did you take to achieve this? How did you do it and how could you apply the same or similar strategies today?
- Don’t forget about hope and inspiration. What gives you hope? What makes you optimistic about change? Visualization can help you with this: take a piece of paper and paste on it images and quotes that motivate you. Or start a blog and post stuff that helps you better present your goals. Also look for support in forums, communities and online chat rooms.
Stage 4: planning
First think of a "general plan". Imagine what life will be like when you reach your goal. Your overall picture may include more than one specific goal. For example, if you can be less irritated with your children, your relationship will become warmer, you will be able to spend more time together and they will become happier in the future.
Then zoom in to develop and refine your specific change goal. It must be measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. For a general goal like "I want to feel better", it will be difficult to plan because it is too abstract. “I want to lose 5 kilos in the next 8 weeks” is a lot more specific.
Now think about the steps you can take to reach your goal. Try to list at least 10 actions that will help you make progress. For example, in order to lose 5 kilograms in the next 8 weeks, you can make a list like this:
- I will walk from the subway to the house instead of taking the bus.
- I will buy healthy snacks so that I always have them on hand.
- I will take volume measurements to track progress every week.
- I’ll try not to skip breakfast.
- I will take a subscription to the pool for a month, I will free up for swimming at least one evening a week.
- I’ll start keeping a food diary.
- I will try to drink more water.
- I will invite my friends to ride a bike in the evening on weekends.
- I will take food from home with me so that there is no temptation to eat fast food at lunchtime.
- I’ll find jeans that barely fit at the waist and try them on once a week.
Then go through the list and rate each step on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is an action you can take and 1 is an action that is currently too complex, abstract, or impractical. Then try reworking the list so that all steps are as close to 5 as possible. For example, "I will eat less carbs and fat" could become "I will eat 1,500 calories a day for the next eight weeks."
Include a support system in your plan as well. Think about which of your friends or relatives, if necessary, can help you financially, be a good listener, inspire you. You can connect in person or on social media with those who share the same interests or goals.
Creating a reward system will also help you stay motivated and reinforce positive change. Something tangible can be the reward, but don’t forget to include meetings with friends, family outings, or doing your hobby alone.
The final part of the plan requires identifying likely obstacles and finding ways to overcome them. Some obstacles may require practical problem solving – this is where your support system and resources will help.
For example, in the first time after the introduction of dietary restrictions, you may feel weak. In this case, it is worth reviewing the diet and abandoning old habits gradually, without stress for the body. Other obstacles will be internal. For example, negative thoughts. Try to stop them with positive ones: “I have already shown self-control. I can handle it".
Gather all this information—the big picture, the specific goal, the 10 steps to get there, the support system, the resources, and the barriers—into writing and review frequently. Keeping your goal in mind is the key to success.
Transtheoretical model of behavior change
To keep track of where you are in change, you can use the transtheoretical model of behavior change, or “stages of change.” It was developed by psychologists James Prochazka and Carlo Di Clemente in the 1970s.
It consists of five stages through which people who decide to change go through. You can use this method along with a motivational interview for better results.
Stage 1: preliminary reflection
At this stage are those who do not intend to change their behavior in the next six months. Such people fall into two categories: the uninformed and the demoralized. The uninformed are reluctant to accept new behavior because they don’t know they need to change. If we return to the motivational interview method, they have not yet recognized the problem. The demoralized person made many unsuccessful attempts to change and decided not to try again.
If you are in the pre-contemplation stage, your goal for now is to move from saying "I’m not going to change" to "I’ll think about it."
Stage 2: contemplation
Contemplatives are considering making changes, but don’t want to do it in the next month. At this stage, people realize that they have a problem that needs to be solved, but do not consider it a priority.
If you’re at this stage, it’s important to trust that new behaviors will help you reap significant rewards with minimal disruption. In this case, the goal is to move from saying "I’ll think about it" to "It’s important that I change it."
Through focus, prioritization, and planning, a motivational interview can help you identify and remove potential roadblocks. For example, you feel that increased anxiety is starting to affect the standard of living. It becomes harder for you to perform your usual duties at work, the manager does not like it and he asks you to look into the situation.
Stage 3: preparation
Once you’ve decided it’s important to start making changes within the next 30 days, you’ve moved on to the preparation phase. This is where you can start small changes towards your ultimate goal. This will help you build the necessary confidence to put the plan into action. Here, your goal is to move from saying "It’s important that I change this" to "I’m sure I can change it."
For example, you can download a book on the topic of dealing with anxiety, think about what triggers you, talk about it with a loved one.
Stage 4: action
Once you have developed a change plan and started implementing it, you are in the action phase. You make changes to your individual plan – it is important that they are measurable and that they bring tangible results.
At this stage, it is also important to develop a plan that will help you deal with falling back into old habits. For example, if after a hard day you again stressed yourself with fast food, analyze the situation. Consider that food didn’t solve your problem. And also about how you can eliminate the cause of anxiety, not its symptoms, and do not scold yourself for "relapse."
A motivational interview will help with this as well – go back to the previous focus and prioritization exercises to take another look at the need for change. Your contingency plan may also include reviewing your reward system, continuing to build your social support system, and reassessing potential barriers to change.
Stage 5: maintenance
After you have supported behavioral changes for six months that have produced significant benefits, you will move into the support stage. If you manage to reach this level, this is a fantastic achievement, which you can be congratulated on. But do not stop, because failures can still happen, and you need to be prepared for this. Revise your change plan as needed.
It may still be difficult for you to know where to start – this is completely normal. Sometimes the discrepancy between where we are (reality) and where we want to be (ideal) seems too big. In this case, don’t rush or put pressure on yourself – take the time to identify the minimum concrete steps you can take.
Enlist the support of close friends and family whenever possible. Also, don’t be surprised if your confidence rises and falls at times. Motivation requires constant attention and reinforcement – try not to get discouraged if some days you have less hope than others. Feel free to seek professional help if needed.