24 December, 2010

Life is full of ups and downs and we all make decisions on a daily basis that can impact on ourselves and others. Change is a common part of life for most of us. Sometimes change is welcomed, it is positive and leads to greater life satisfaction, other times, change can be difficult and can present a major challenge.

Change generally occurs for three reasons: choicecrisis or chance. For example:

• You might CHOOSE to not work on weekends and spend more time with the family,
• A CRISIS might force you to sacrifice a overseas holiday you had been planning for, or you might need to look at cutting the costs to a holiday closer to home,
• With CHANCE the opportunity of a lifetime might present itself, however scary you might jump on board.

How we manage this change depends on the person we are, the options we have, which type of change it is and how many other changes have happened in our lives. The reality is that some people adapt to change easily, some people get stuck and others can act like they are dragging both feet.

How we manage change can also depend on how the family we grew up in dealt with change, our personality, our previous experiences with change, and the resources we can access. Often it can be interesting to just stop and think about how our parents dealt with change and see if we do the same thing.


What happens when we make change?

According to research (Prochaska, 1994), change happens over five stages, but people rarely go from the first stage to the last stage without going back:

1st stage, precontemplation – no intention of changing, often deny change would be beneficial. Basically, your often not aware there is a problem and that you need to change anything.
2nd stage, contemplation – acknowledges problem and begins to think about doing something. Real action is in the future – sometimes get stuck here. Sometimes the problem can seem too difficult and therefore change may seem impossible.
3rd stage, preparation – plan of action, specific commitment to change. May still have mixed feelings – relapse may happen. You may need to divide the change into steps, so that you have mini-goals which support the overall goal to change.
4th stage, action – change happens in behaviour and environment. In this stage you need support to keep the change in place.
5th stage, maintenance – consolidation, without a strong commitment to maintenance relapse to 1st or 2nd stage is likely. Unless you understand the problems and why it is important to make the change it is difficult to change any behaviour.


Pam 36yrs came to us because she had difficult communicating with her mother without getting into an argument. Pam felt her mother always tried to tell her how to care for her new born baby and would get angry if Pam would not follow her instructions. This often spilled over into her relationships with friends and her partner who were upset that her relationship with her mother caused her so much distress. Pam knew things had to change as she wanted a good relationship with her mother and was now avoiding speaking to her to avoid any arguments. The prospect of change seemed like an impossibility to Pam as she had been in the same pattern with her mother since childhood and knew she could not change her mother.
Pam with the help of her counsellor started to look at this problem differently, she looked at how she could take little steps to change how she communicated with her mother. Over time she gradually changed how she was communicating with her mother and this helped to change how her mother communicated with her. It was a difficult process and sometimes when she was not quite herself things slipped back into the old style. Overall she was able to manage this change in a way that benefited herself, her mother and her relationships with family and friends.

Tips for Managing Change

When attempting to make changes there are some key strategies which can make it easier. These include:

Being Aware – what am I thinking, feeling, hearing and what am I saying to myself when things are good and not so good.
Getting Support – everyone need supports, friends and family are great, but sometimes you need to link in with other supports such as a counsellor who can be objective about the issue.
Self Care – like they say on aeroplanes, make sure you fix your mask before you help others. It is critical to any change to make sure you are caring for yourself, emotionally and physically. Simply things like: getting enough sleep, a healthy diet, some time out for relaxation or pleasure, connecting with people you care about, can make all the difference.
Good communication – Leaning how to effectively communicate how you feel and how you would like to be treated in any relationship is important to feeling valued and respected.
Being Objective – there are many things that we cannot control or change, instead we can focus on ourselves in our own world, avoid blaming, but instead identity our part of the problem and what we can change.

Things to watch out for

When change occurs because of a crisis which is out of our control there are certain things we may need to avoid or be aware of so we can ask for extra help if necessary. Sometimes the stress associated with this kind of change can become chronic, and affect our physical and mental health. Feelings of depression and despair are common and not a sign of failure. Other behaviours to be wary of include:

• An increase in the amount of alcohol or other abusive substances.
• Not getting enough sleep, or sleeping too much.
• Feeling irritable, agitated, mood swings or on edge.
• Suicidal thoughts.
• Poor concentration maybe resulting in accidents.
• Poor eating habits.
• Becoming more aggressive, restless.

Making a Change

Finally it is important to acknowledge everyone changes at different paces, and so we do not set ourselves up for failure we need to also consider:

Safety: to feel secure before starting something new
Goals : to start small and be specific
Age: although it is more difficult to make changes and adapt as you get older, it is also often difficult to commit to change for people who are younger.
Time: Sometimes it takes longer to break old habits, persistence is the key to any change.
Attitude: What your thinking and your belief in yourself and your ability to change is very important to the change process

If you experiencing problems in your relationships and think that you may need to make some changes, please call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or visit www.raq.org.au and we can arrange for you to talk to an experienced counsellor.