The topic of change isn’t complete without a discussion about how to help move the change process forward. This begins with our mindset surrounding change: If we believe that our traits and abilities are continuously developing and can change, we are more likely to view a change in our lives as a positive thing, a challenge we can meet. If, however, we believe we are unable to change the way we think or believe, we may experience change as a threat. The status quo may feel safe. Venturing outside of it brings a towering fear of the unknown. This mindset that views change as a threat is what researchers call a “fixed” mindset. If your mindset is fixed, instead of actively participating in new seasons of growth, our threat response will lead us to shut down, fight back, run away or freeze. The season of change will usually continue on, and we will either move toward accepting it or continue to fight it, kicking and screaming but not gaining any traction.

Change can be difficult, but when we have made peace with the reality of its inevitability, we can begin to help support those in our lives who are in the process of making changes in their lives. Out of the 6 stages of change (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and relapse), the contemplation stage can be most difficult for family members and friends to know how to handle. This is the stage when an individual is considering change, but they haven’t yet made the decision to embrace a change in their lives or plan for one. It is in this stage that a therapeutic technique called motivational interviewing is helpful.

How do we identify if we should use motivational interviewing? As a family member or friend (or even in consideration of our own internal change goals), it’s important for us to be a “treasure hunter” to identify and pull out “change talk” in conversation.  What is change talk?  Look for phrases like “I want to but…” “I can’t keep going like this…”  “I’m beginning to wonder if…”. “I wish things were…”.  We can adequately continue the conversation toward change by listening for these key indicators that a change is on the horizon, highlighting them, then strengthening that resolve through encouragement and faith. 

Motivational interviewing, in it’s truest form, is not about forcing someone to change how we want them to change, but rather helping them change toward what they truly desire in their lives. 

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others” -Blaise pascal, 1660

The phrase itself, “motivational interviewing” reminds us that we aren’t lecturing our loved ones, but rather seeking to ask the right questions. We aren’t telling them what they should or shouldn’t do, rather we are pulling out what motivation is already present and expanding upon it.  We aren’t talking AT someone, we’re talking WITH them to help them identify their motivations for change.  

In this case, it’s important to try and build upon “change talk”.  How do we do that?  We reflect what is already being said and we expand upon it.  “You’ve mentioned that it’s hard for you to keep going like this, tell me what’s the hardest thing about it.”  Or “You wish things were different.  If they were different, what would they be like?” This is how we help people verbalize what’s often unspoken and undiscovered.  It’s courageous to even consider something different for one’s life… so let’s be careful not to trample on people’s vulnerability by immediately rushing them with our opinions of what they need to do differently. Stepping back to understand their motivation first creates lasting change because the change is in line with the person’s internal motivation.

I want to, but…”

In the stage of contemplation, ambivalence is the most common experience. Ambivalence simply means “of two minds”. This “weighing of the options” is a common experience because for change to be sustained, we need to have adequately considered the alternative and decide that change is worth it to us.  This results in a time of ambivalence.  I encourage clients, parents, friends, please learn to tolerate, even appreciate ambivalence.  It’s one of the greatest things you can do for your mental health.  The world is filled with ambivalence because people are nuanced and multi-dimensional and the implications of decisions are rarely black and white.  One simple way you can befriend ambivalence is by replacing one word in your vocabulary during these change talks: replace the word “BUT” with “and”. 

“I want to stop smoking BUT it’s so hard” Verses “I want to stop smoking AND it’s so hard.” 

“AND” implies that you’re normalizing the desire for change AND what it will take to get there.  

Moving through the “stuck” phase

  Therapists and individuals in helping positions can get stuck in an impulse to “fix” someone called the “righting reflex”.  This reflex includes our tendency to want to make things better, or “right”, for someone else.  We think, “Now is my time to give them the skills or insight they need to succeed.”  The challenge is that if we do this TOO soon, while someone is still making up their mind as to whether they WANT to change, we run the risk of getting massive resistance. 

 In the therapeutic world, when we get resistance we don’t fight against it.  What do we do when we encounter resistance?  We “roll with it.”  What does that mean?  It means don’t fight the fact that someone has very valid reasons (to them)  for staying the same. Validate them.  They haven’t stayed the same for this long without there being some kind of payoff.  Research has shown that simply accepting someone where they are at opens the door for them to change.

 It’s also important to respect what stage of change people are in while being a consistent resource if needed.  If someone has explicitly said to stop talking about a certain change option, respect their boundary.  At some point, they may move back into contemplation and when they do, they’ll know you’re a person they can talk to about it because you didn’t burn that bridge by force.  If a person isn’t ready to change yet, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be ready later.  When they do show signs of being open to change (remember, the “change talk”), keep their options for change top of mind, keep the change conversation going and keep highlighting the perceived benefit of change. When they are ready, help them set bite sized goals so they can feel that sense of success and build upon it. 

Faith to Change

It’s imperative to remember that people don’t always refuse change because they don’t want to change.  More often than not, people refuse change because they believe they can’t change.  The faith element plays a significant part in building confidence to initiate change.  Even if you have zero confidence in yourself, as you step out in faith and live into a different identity, He will equip and empower you.  Through this process, you will also learn new skills experientially that will carry you through the next challenge you face. 

Seeking to persuade or demand someone (or yourself) into a change in the area of a heath promoting behavior can feel like wrestling. Using motivational interviewing and trusting the the author of change has things under control feels more like a dance… there’s still effort being made, but it’s not from strong-arming. If you feel ready to make a change in your life, visit our main page and complete the free assessment: We will provide a free personalized consultation and referral to meet your therapeutic needs.