“Meaningful behavioral change is very hard to do.”
Marshall Goldsmith, NYT bestselling author of Triggers, Creating Behavior That Lasts

My long-time friend, Marshall, is absolutely right.  Behavioral change is VERY hard.  It’s hard because it takes immense desire, discipline and determination.  You’ve got to really want to change.  You’ve got to work diligently at it.  You have to keep trying when the zest for change has lost its zeal.  The struggle is real.

A client of mine is working on letting go of her attachments to people and past experiences.  She recently told me how hard it’s been changing her behavior – the exhausting pull on her energy, the emotional swings, the weariness of waiting.  To help her get through this difficult period, I sent her a text about the following four stages of behavioral change.  I told her that knowing what to expect won’t lessen the challenges she will face.  But understanding where you are and what lies ahead can help her, and you, get through each stage with a bit more self-compassion and grace.

 

Stage 1: INSPIRED

You’re gung ho and ready to go!  Whether your motivation comes from within or inspired by others, you’re driven and determined to chart a new direction.  Inspiration is essential for igniting change in your life.  But a word of caution – this stage is fueled by emotion.  You’ll feel excited for a few weeks and then your emotional high will peak.  When it does, don’t be alarmed.  It simply means that your energy has grounded and your perspectives have, too.  After several weeks of trying to change your behavior, you realize that it’s not that easy.  You’re more conscious of the fact that you’ve got some serious work to do.  That’s a clear indication that you’re transitioning to stage two.

Stage 2: MIRED

This stage is when you’re grinding it out day after day – attempting to exchange bad habits for better ones.  Some days you’ll make progress, other days you’ll regress.  This stage is like a roller coaster ride.  Don’t worry about success or failure.  At the end of the day, what matters is that you tried.  Like an elite athlete, Stage 2 is all about developing physical strength and endurance.  You must keep going no matter how difficult it is.  The key to transformation is consistent action.

Stage 3: TIRED

This is the toughest stage.  It’s when you’ve been working on behavioral change for a while and you’ve reached the final mile.  You’re feeling enormous fatigue and running out of fuel.  Your goal is within sight but each day is a fight.  This stage is the danger zone.  If you don’t step up your mental game, you’ll give up and quit — sabotaging the seeds you’ve sown.  Rely heavily on positive reinforcements — your steadfast supporters, favorite affirmations, or inspiring music.  Whatever keeps your mind shielded from negative forces.

Stage 4: RE-WIRED

If you maintain your mental game in stage three, getting to Stage 4 is guaranteed.  Stage 4 is when your behaviors have finally changed.  When you reach this stage, you’ll notice something strange.  There’s no fanfare.  You just wake up one day and realize that you’re there.  Through relentless patience and persistence, you’ve won the war of resistance.  There’s no more struggle.  But stay alert…bad habits can quickly resurface if you’re not mindful.

If you want to change your behaviors, make sure it’s for a meaningful goal.  Then you’ll stay focused and committed no matter how taxing it is on your soul.  And don’t forget to proceed at your own pace.  Because it doesn’t matter when you finally change — what matters is that you finish the race.