Written by Dr. Ken Buckle for Maggie’s Place Alumni Moms
Given during the season of Lent, 2012
HOUSTON—In previous articles we began to look at the theory of change described by Drs. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. Their first three stages are mostly mental work or mental states. “Precontemplation” represents that state in which we are not at all ready to take action on some type of change. This change might involve starting a new positive behavior, or stopping an old unhealthy behavior. There may be many reasons why we are not ready, such as having no awareness of the need or no confidence that we can successfully change. This first stage is called “Precontemplation” because we are not giving much thought to making a change. The second stage “Contemplation” represents that point in which we begin to ponder change. The third stage “Preparation” involves the gathering of information and mapping out a plan for what we want to do with ourselves and our life. As we move through these stages, we get closer and closer to change.
The fourth step is called “Action.” It is such a simple word, but is very important and sometimes is rather difficult. It is so common for us to find ourselves in unhealthy routines that there’s a saying to describe this: “I’m stuck in a rut.” These bad habits for example, can be quite comfortable like a well worn pair of jeans or old shoes. There’s a temptation to want to stay where we are, even if it’s not a good place. The familiar seems safe, and something new can be scary. Some people get stuck in the mental work of contemplation and planning, and never take action. Taking action means doing something new. It requires great courage sometimes. If we are going to change, we have got to jump in at some point. Years ago there was a great advertising slogan “Just Do It” developed by Dan Wieden for Nike that speaks well to this. And we don’t have to do it perfectly; we just need to get on with it.
Having the support and encouragement of others can be critical for the Action stage. Two people quitting smoking together are more likely to be successful than one trying to do it alone. Three women walking each morning for exercise are probably going to keep their routine going longer than if each were to try and do it individually. When you are taking action, others can see it…and you should let them see it so that they can help push you along. For example, maybe a husband observes his wife reading scripture more during Lent. He notices this change and gives her positive feedback, telling her how much he likes what she is doing to get closer to God.
Your new action should be a daily event if possible. In order to build up some new change into a habit, research shows us that daily practice across at least 7-9 weeks will be important in order for it to become part of your life. Alcoholics new to the 12-Step program will try to attend 90 meetings in 90 days because experience has shown those in AA that the first 90 days of sobriety is critical. Those who set up New Year’s resolutions have often given up on them by the end of January. If you have been working on a New Year’s resolution and still doing well with it now in mid-March, then you are off to a great start on this change. Congratulations! If you should stumble, get right back into Action as soon as possible and then keep going.
On the other hand, in the midst of action we must not forget the value of contemplation and prayer. Jesus taught that contemplation is preferred over simple busy body actions (Luke 10: 38-42). Contemplation is for the purpose of loving God, and experiencing God. It fosters love. Recovery work in the 12-Step program leads the recovering addict to reach out to other addicts who are still suffering. This involves the action of sacrifice and the action of love. We don’t necessarily stop doing the previous steps of Contemplation and Preparation when we begin Action. In fact if we continue to reflect on the change we are making and keep fine-tuning and adjusting our plans, then we will increase our chance of accomplishing our goals.
So we see that action is also important in our faith. The season of Lent in particular is a great time to take action. The Church tradition is to try three actions in particular: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. These actions help to move us closer to Christ, who through his own action of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection, obtained our salvation. It is a time to die to our old self and put on something new. We could say that it is only through the grace of God that we can take action toward healing and transformation.
In the fifth and final article of this series which will be delivered on Easter, we will look at the fifth stage of change: “Maintenance.” This stage helps us to cement the change that has been started, to build on the foundation laid in the fourth stage. It is about achieving long-term, deep, and lasting change. The title of today’s article “Grace Will Come to Clear Your Path” is borrowed from the lyrics of a wonderful song by Audrey Assad. The closing prayer for today’s article is also borrowed from classic lyrics by John Newton.
Father, send us your strength so that we can take action, your Amazing Grace, that sweet sound that saves and sets us free. We were once lost, but now are found because you are the Good Shepherd. We were blind but now we see because you are the Great Healer.