Articles on Personal Matters:

The Art of Change

The desire for change is a paradox. We know that it is important to accept ourselves and not be so self-critical, and yet at the same time we may have less-than-desirable habits we’d like to replace, traits we want to enhance, or skills we’d like to develop.

Change happens unceasingly around us and we are called upon constantly to adapt and grow, or wither. Carl Rogers believed that all living organisms have a tendency toward growth, and that as people we strive to actualize our inherent potential.

Then what makes change so challenging? A situation that frequently comes up in coaching is the client who feels he truly wants to change but is baffled by his inability to do all the action steps that he has agreed to do. He started with the best of intentions - what’s going on?

Think for a moment about a successful change that you have made. For example, if you are in recovery from an addiction you know that the change didn’t happen all at once. It probably took quite a while to work through the denial, the attempts to control, the realization that something had to be done but not knowing exactly what, the knowledge that you weren’t sure you really wanted to stop, the decision to stop, the actual stopping, and the integration of new habits and behaviors.

Other changes, too, unfold through a series of steps. Psychologist James Prochaska and his colleagues studied people who made successful changes and identified these stages:

• Precontemplation - the person denies having a problem and has no intention of changing their behavior. They might be demoralized and resist talking about their problem because there doesn’t seem to be a solution.

• Contemplation - “I want to stop feeling so stuck.” The person acknowledges their problem and struggles to understand the causes and wonder about solutions. They may be far from making a commitment to action, however.

• Preparation - the person is planning to take action within the next month. They are making final adjustments, and have made their intention to change public. They may have instituted a small number of changes already, but they have not necessarily resolved their ambivalence.

• Action - this is the most obviously busy period. The changes are more visible to others and receive the most recognition.

• Maintenance - change never ends with action. This is the period where the changes are incorporated and the time to be alert to the risk of relapse.

• Termination - the former problem no longer presents a temptation or threat, and the cycle of change is exited. (We know in the case of some changes, like addiction, that there is no “cure” however.)

You can be at different stages with different issues in your life. Also, the stages are not linear; you can - and probably will - spiral back to previous stages, such as contemplation and preparation, before you are actually able to proceed with effective change.

This is what is so important to realize: spiraling back to previous stages and being ambivalent are all part of change. This does not constitute failure.

So what does that client, whom I mentioned above, need to do?

1. Suspend judgment. It’s important that he recognize the stages of change so that he doesn’t judge himself a failure. This is not the time for self-criticism.

2. Recognize what he has already accomplished. Behaviors “travel in packs” and nourish each other. He might be altering other behaviors or attitudes that will have an influence on the main thing he wants to change.

3. Not give up. It’s good for him to sit with those feelings of ambivalence instead of running away from them because they’re uncomfortable. Being present with the ambivalent feelings is a step toward change, while putting off change isn’t.

A lot of coaching happens in the contemplation and preparation stages. Just because someone has hired a coach does not mean they will be able to immediately take all their desired action steps. But even people who are not ready to act can set the change process in motion.

Think about something you have been meaning to change, or are actually trying to change right now. What stage are you in?

Martha Ruske
09 Jan 2007

Martha Ruske is a marriage and family therapist in California. She currently works with people in long-term recovery from alcoholism, helping them step out into the fuller life they deserve. Find out about the benefits of recovery life coaching and get a free workbook at

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Life Is A Test

I rarely ever remember a dream. Even when I can remember what I was dreaming about when I have to get up for a drink or bathroom break in the middle of the night, I have forgotten all about it by morning.

However, last night I had a dream that made me analyze my life and my thought processes on a day to day basis.

I was dreaming about taking a test. I am not sure the subject of the test. I do remember feeling under pressure and I was struggling a bit with the content of the test.

Now, I have taken my share of tests in the past and can recall having these types of dreams while in college; but, why now?

I jotted down a few notes before going back to bed and did my best to decipher this brain spark this morning.

I am into several projects right now in which I am under the microscope, so to speak. But, am I? Is this all in my head? Do I bring all this pressure on myself?


I try to be the best I can be; mentally, physically, and financially. I try to learn as much as possible to improve my abilities in these areas. This is great as long as I don't spend so much time trying to improve me that it harms my life in these same areas; i.e. stress, family, friends, health, etc.

We all see the "burn-out" in the self-improvement entrepreneur; the sacrifices made in the "important things" in life such as relationships and peace of mind.

Peace of mind should be a top priority for mental, physical, and financial success. Living life as some sort of constant test will hamper this process.

Realizing that progress is a "you vs. you" phenomenon and that you don't have to please someone else on a day to day basis is a great start.

Bryan Tracy, in his audio series from Nightingale Conant entitled "Action Secrets for Personal Achievement," talks about the need for certain people to get the approval of others. He calls this a symptom of Type "A" behavior.

Here are some of the other type "A" symptoms:

Having a sense of urgency to do more and more in less and less time.

Volunteering for more and more work at the office.

Feeling under pressure to get activities accomplished.

Being obsessed with your performance and having high standards for such performance.

The type "A" personality can't relax and enjoy an accomplishment, they feel like they have never done enough.

Compare self with others.

More concerned with things than with people.

Brings home work.

Talks about the boss, what the boss said, what the boss did… wants to please the boss at all times.

Has a sense of hostility towards those he or she feels to be competing against.

Type "A's" cannot admit that they are not in control.

If you fall into any of the above categories, making a decision to change may be a great first step. This decision involves trying to relax and still be productive and effective without the added stress we type "A's" like to impart.

There are two things that have worked in the past for me (and my clients) that I am going to focus on after this "wake-up call."

One is a daily exercise plan. Even when I am on the road, I usually do some exercise daily, but, there are times I get in a rut and don't focus on my planning and execution of a said workout. A daily routine helps relieve stress and will bring out creativity and problem solving abilities like no other activity!

It is a "reality check" for me as well. Things are brought into a better perspective after a good workout, no matter how long the workout is.

This is Stephen Covey's take on exercise (from his book The 8th Habit): "I am convinced that exercise increases our own sense of self-control and self-mastery, which enhances the totality of our lives and truly enlarges the space between stimulus and response."

The second concept is practicing daily solitude. This could be a twenty minute walk, a power relaxation/almost nap, hanging out on a park bench, etc. This is a time to let your mind "go" and let your subconscious work on goals, problems, and/or ideas that are filling your head - a "mind-cleansing" if you will.

I try to do two, one-hour solitude sessions per week to let my subconscious mind take over and do its thing for me. This is a time when I just sit back and take in the world, usually outside in a fairly secluded place without interruptions. I sometimes think about a couple of goals or issues in my life ahead of time, then sit back and let my brain work on things.

I tend to find some answers to problems as well as some pretty great ideas to take back to work with me. They not only help me achieve goals, but relieve stress at the same time. These two activities alone have probably added years to my life and helped me through some potentially stressful times.

Thus, the reason for my dream. I have been in situations recently in which I feel the need to "prove" myself. I am living my life as a series of tests… daily. I have felt out of sorts, not myself, lacking confidence.

All brought on by myself.

Life is not a test. To me, it is a series of learning experiences.

My goal is to strengthen the area between stimulus and response (see quote above and The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey) on a daily basis; mentally, physically, and financially. As that space continues to grow with experience and knowledge, my life and dreams will put a smile on my face.

Thanks for letting me think out loud today.

Sweet dreams.

John Perry
29 Jan 2007

Would you like to know how to fit exercise into your already busy schedule? How would you like to learn a time-efficient routine that can be done anywhere? Go to to find out how.