Anyone who aspires to help others change will quickly discover that people are often less than “ready, willing, and able” to do so. In the mental health world, behavioral specialists are there to help with the "able" part; teaching and practicing skills, but it is much more difficult to impact the readiness and willingness components.
There is an understanding that at any given time, individuals exist on a continuum of change and it is our job, as coaches and therapists, to help engage them in such a way that helps them move along this path of change.
The natural trajectory of this continuum begins with precontemplation (not really thinking about change), contemplation (thinking about change), preparation, action, and maintenance.
Transtheoretical model of change
in the 1980's, psychologist James Prochaska developed the Transtheoretical Model of change. He believed that even if people were not ready to change, they could still move forward and identified helpful actions that build forward momentum, no matter where individuals are in the change process.
In the early stages of change, the precontemplation change, people don't typically think they have a problem. Here are some things to consider when approaching change at this stage:
Are they willing to discuss their current patterns and choices?
Are they willing to consider change?
Are there any upcoming milestones that may help influence motivation to change?
In this stage, people acknowledge a need, but aren't quite ready yet to make it. During this stage, ambivalence is comon. It isn't uncommon to hear someone say, "I know I need to ____, but will do it after ___." Here are some ways to approach change at this stage:
Are there ways you can support visualization or imagining what their life will be like when the change has occurred?
Are there any examples of people who have experienced changes similar to those a person is considering that may be inspiring or motivating?
Are there any ways you can support excitement and knowledge about the changes?
Are there ways you can help them examine their personal values in relationship to the changes being considered?
Are there ways you can elicit self-motivational statements of intent and commitment from them?
In this stage, people have typically (for the most part) demonstrated emotional buy-in to make change in the very near future and may even be sharing their plan with friends, family members or co-workers.
Are there ways you can support them considering potential obstacles and creating plans to overcome them?
Are there ways you can support them sharing their plans more publicly and frequently?
During this stage, behaviors are and have been happening for a season of time. It's important that people at this stage continue to see value in their actions.
Are there ways you can validate, praise, or acknowledge the actions that have and are being taken?
Are there opportunities for you to continue to support the person by talking through ways they've overcome obstacles and will continue to do so in the future?
At this point, people have demonstrated a successful pattern of change for at least 6 months or so.
Are there any ways you can continue to support them by illuminating new goals?
Are there more things you can do to support their long term success?
While it would be nice and tidy if these stages progressed in a linear manner, but the truth of it is that people often move back to earlier stages and repeat the cycle as needed during setbacks.
Why am I sharing this with you??
This theory is not just applicable to helping someone make life changes or to replace unhealthy patterns with good; this theory is widely applicable to business as well!
Think about it; we all have times when we want people (employees, co-workers, prospects, customers...the marketplace) to take action. It's in our best interest to not only understand where they lie along this continuum, but how to move them to the next stages.