What are the 5 key stages needed for behavioural change? And how can they help you move on?
Recovery from any mental illness often requires complete behavioural change. Our minds become so wired to thinking in a particular way, that we require a detox. Figuratively speaking, of course. From the personal perspective of a restrictive eating disorder, it begins by trying to manage the sufferer’s intake in order to regain physical stability. However, the biggest and most difficult change isn’t the physical weight gain, it’s the emotional and mental trauma that comes along with it.
As I began to work through recovery a number of years ago, I realized that my condition was nothing to do with weight. In fact, it was almost entirely due to what was going on internally. Weight was just an illusion used to cope with chronic stress, low self-esteem, and mental distress.
In order to give myself a fighting chance in recovery, I needed to look at my behaviors and attitudes.
The 6 Rules of Behavioural Change.
It’s a simple concept but it’s far from easy.
If behavioural change were easy, we’d all be able to do it within the week. Recovery wouldn’t take so much time, money, and effort, and we’d be back to our normal lives without a second thought.
However, the reality is that complete behavioural change takes massive amounts of time, patience, perseverance, and acceptance. Without all of these stepping stones in place, we’d be doomed to fail.
In recovery, it’s expected that you’ll take two steps forward and one step back. At least, that’s how it feels. Like anything difficult, but worth doing, recovery is an ongoing process. There are plenty of ups and downs, sometimes one more than the other. That’s exactly why the small changes that you make need to be acknowledged and celebrated!
“You put the washing on? Amazing!“
“You managed to stick to eating six times today? Well done!”
It’s going to be slow.
When trying to create change you’re creating new habits and neural pathways in your brain. I like to compare it to painting the Sistine Chapel; It can’t be rushed.
In order to create a habit, you need to repeat them over and over again so that it becomes almost automatic. You also need to learn how to disconnect the old habits in order to make room for the new, shiny and healthy habits you’re working so hard on forming.
Change doesn’t happen without discomfort.
DISCOMFORT + PERSEVERANCE = CHANGE
Change is facilitated by having or developing specific personality traits.
There are 3 ‘C’s and 3’P’s in regard to personality traits that can better initiate change. The good thing about these traits is they can be learned by those who don’t naturally possess them. I am one of these people, and it takes a great deal of effort for me to initiate and overcome the fear of change.
- Curiosity: The curiosity to engage in and give change a try. Without it you won’t bother moving from your comfort zone.
- Compassion for the self: You have to be compassionate with yourself to even begin to entertain the idea of change. If you aren’t going to be nice to yourself then why bother with recovery?
- Caring for the self: Again you need to take care of yourself and your emotional and physical needs in order to engage in and stick to change.
- Practice: You need to practice self-care, compassion, and recovery every day in order to make it work. Remember those habits and pathways? The more you do something (practice something) the easier it becomes and the more likely it is to form an automatic response in your brain.
- Patience: Be patient with yourself. Remember point 3? The change will not and can not happen in a matter of hours.
- Persistence: Keep going and keep moving forward.
Put one foot in front of the other.
You’re going to have bad days but those bad days don’t define the rest of your life. Let your past be the sound of your feet on the ground!
5 Key Steps to Behavioural Change.
In order for change to work, you have to be willing and ready to do so. If you don’t take anything else from this post, remember;
If you are not ready and not committed then it simply won’t work.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the above model. It’s one I’ve used in the past during university, work, and, eventually, my own recovery.
There are 5 main stages of behavioural change. During any of these phases, specifically with recovery from mental illness, relapse is always possible but not desirable.
Stage 1: Pre-contemplation.
At this stage, you’re unaware of an issue or in denial that you need help.
Stage 2: Contemplation.
At this point, you’re aware of the problem and you’re thinking about taking steps to recovery. You may actively be seeking support at this point or you might not know where to turn in order to get the ball rolling.
At this point in the game, stagnation is possible in that you have vague plans to recover but nothing is set in stone. You’ll just float in no man’s land for a while until you decide to either bite the bullet and enter treatment or remain the same.
Stage 3: Preparation.
You’re planning to change and you’ve set yourself goals in order to help you do that. I advise you to make your goals public in order to rally up the troops for support, or even just to hold yourself publicly liable.
Stage 4: Action.
Now you’re putting your goals to work. You may already be lucky enough to be engaging with therapy or services of some kind.
Be aware that there will be setbacks and small relapses are always ever-present. Don’t be disheartened. I’ve been there, I’m still there some days and you will be too. We aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to struggle to stay at stage 4. Be kind, patient, and keep pushing ahead through it all.
Stage 5: Maintenance.
In regards to Anorexia Nervosa, the maintenance phase comes after weight restoration and emotional healing. You need to ensure that you continue to practice good habits, eat well, be kind to yourself, remain confident, and don’t look back.
As humans, we often look into the past. We regret we contemplate, we mourn and we reminisce about the past. Unlike Lot’s Wife, looking back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll turn into a pillar of salt (that is you will not fall into bad habits just by simply thinking about it).
You don’t have to pretend that it never happened because chances are that this experience has shaped you into the person you are and will be. Instead, use the experience as a lesson and not as a romantic notion that you keep locked away in a box ready to come out whenever times are tough. I did and look where it got me.
“What stage of behavioural change am I in?”
You can switch from one stage to another in a matter of seconds so it isn’t as straightforward as getting into a lane and sticking to it. Even if you are in the middle of therapy it doesn’t mean you’re 100% committed all the time and ready for action.
Recovery of any kind is like an internal war being waged inside your own mind every day. There are conflicting emotions and thoughts that’ll cause a lot of confusion and frustration, and nothing about it is simple. It’s not meant to be so don’t be disheartened if you don’t know where you are in recovery.