You may have heard of the 5 stages of loss and grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Whoever we are we’ll go through these in some way, shape or form when experiencing painful changes such as a bereavement or redundancy.
Similarly, we go through a set pattern of stages when we are implementing change in our lives. In this context, I’m referring to change that is driven by ourselves rather than imposed upon us. These, what I call, Person Driven Change Stages are what I mostly deal with in my coaching work. They are generally less well known, and they are: dissatisfaction, thinking/deciding, taking action, maintaining action, regression and change implemented.
Individuals will move through these as they work through the coaching process. When we first start working together, individuals are typically at either the dissatisfied stage or the thinking/deciding one, with their signing up to the coaching starting to push them towards the taking relevant action stage.
When left to our own devises, we mostly move through the Change Stages without being consciously aware of it and how quickly or slowly we move through each of them will be very much be dependent on the person in question as well as the level of change applicable. I find it’s helpful to make individuals aware of the Change Stages for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to help them see how the thinking/deciding phase can cause a huge amount of procrastination and also that whilst the regression stage is perfectly natural, almost predictable (although this is the one stage some people can bypass altogether), it can cause an awful lot of damage to our efforts to change something in our lives for the better, if it’s not recognised for what it is. Without awareness we are out of control, so I’m hoping to offer you a greater level of control as you travel through your own changes by explaining in a little more detail what the 5 stages of change involve and what to look out for.
The 5 Stages of Person Driven Change
- Dissatisfaction: Ultimately, us humans are quite lazy so if we’re not somehow unhappy or dissatisfied with status quo, we won’t try to change it even if we know we could have something even bigger or better if we made the effort.
- Thinking/deciding: Sadly, this is where most people remain forever! You may recognise this in yourself…. When you lie in bed at night and make decisions that tomorrow you’ll start to eat healthily and on Saturday you’ll join the gym, or next week you’ll update your CV and send it to 3 recruitment agencies or after the holiday I’ll deal with the difficult person at work or confront the lack of time you spend together as a family. There are endless scenarios when we in our mind make decisions like thee, and in us doing so almost kid ourselves we’re actually doing something about whatever it is that we’re unhappy about. When really we’re doing nothing! Only a huge amount of procrastination! When we recognise this kind of thinking for what it is, we can do something about it and move onto the 3rd stage of….
- Taking action: It’s only when we start to do something towards whatever it is we’d like changed that any results can start to show.
- Maintaining action: Our habits are to do things in a certain way – we work on autopilot the majority of the time. The new ways of behaving aren’t yet habitual so we need to deliberately maintain action for some time to a) work through all the steps required to whatever change we’re working towards to be achieved, and b) to have practiced new ways of behaving and thinking for long enough to replace the old, unhelpful/outdated habits.
- Regression: As I mentioned earlier this may or may not happen, but very often it does. It may be when it starts to feel a little easier, so we take our eye off the ball and old habits start to creep back in. Or it may be when an unexpected challenge comes along and derails us. Points to remember here are:
- The last thing you want to do is start beating yourself up over it and therefore probably regress even further. As mentioned previously, it’s perfectly natural and perhaps even predictable that this may happen – don’t make it more personal than that!
- The only thing to do to interrupt the regression is to snap straight back down to point 4 and start taking deliberate action again.
- Change implemented: Now the new habits are yours to own. This is how you are now, how you communicate, take actions, live healthily, prioritise your time…, whatever the case is. It’s now pretty effortless and you wonder what the big fuss was about in the first place!
So there you have it. You may have heard people say, just do something towards your goals, however little, every day. It’s good advice and will keep you in the maintaining action stage 4 until you’re ready to step into stage 6 when the change is implemented. Then you will have freed up the capacity to notice something else you’d like to improve or develop and you’ll be right back at stage 1 again. The good news is, if we allow ourselves to move through the stages and stay focused, this is only a positive thing as this is how we continuously grow and further ourselves. A healthy human need!