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Not all change is growth, but all growth requires change

Change is not necessarily growth. Change can be simple blunting of symptoms so that you know you are depressed but you just don’t care that much (which sounds redundant, doesn’t it?). You might believe people are talking about you, but you feel muffled, and soon move on to other things. You don’t feel quite as bad, but you realise that your situation hasn’t really changed. That would be change in terms of a quantitative measure, but not necessarily a change in the quality of what was going on.

Growth is change in a positive direction and it is qualitatively different.

As described at the Wikipedia and by D Patterson, in the book Clinical Hypnosis for Pain Control, the trans-theoretical model of change is related to motivation for change:

Stage 1: PrecontemplationPeople at this stage do not intend to be more healthy anytime within six months and may even be unaware of the need to change. People can learn about healthy behaviour at this stage and be encouraged to think through the issue of changing their behaviour, but they often underestimate the benefits of change and overestimate the negatives associated with change. Others can encourage people at this stage to be more purposeful and aware regarding their decision-making.

Stage 2: ContemplationPeople at this stage intend to start the healthy behaviour within the next six months. They have become more aware of the benefits of change, and to them the negatives are about equal to the benefits. However, this often results in ambivalence that sets up an impasse. It becomes as important to change as it is necessary to maintain the status quo. People at this stage sense the potential in the kind of person they might become. An important technique used in addictions work and other kinds of psychotherapy is called “motivational interviewing” (MI); using MI, other people can help a person work through the impasse by paying attention to the growthful statements a person makes.

Stage 3: Preparation People at this stage are ready to start taking action within 30 days. They take small steps they believe can help them make the healthy behaviour a part of their lives. Their language is characterised by much more frequency of positive change talk. People at this stage can worry that when they make efforts to change, they might fail. They need to be encouraged to keep trying, that others are supportive, and that occasional failure is normal.

Stage 4: ActionPeople at this stage have experienced some kind of growth within the last 6 months and are working to keep growing. They are typically learning how to strengthen their commitment to growth and are combating the tendency to slip back into familiar patterns — the ones they know how to do and with which they feel more “comfortable,” even though they realise these are the very things they are attempting to change. People at this stage need to actively substitute healthy activities for unhealthy ones. They often need to re-evaluate relationships and change them whenever other people pull toward old behaviours.

Stage 5: MaintenancePeople at this stage changed something about their lives and the way they live them more than six months ago. People in this stage have learned to pay attention to their situations, and to have back-up plans should something tempt them to fall back.

Not all change is growth, but all growth is change. Change can be scary. How’s that saying go? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Many people have what looks like an approach-avoidance reaction to things getting better, to them becoming more fulfilled, to rocking the boat, which is necessary if anything is going to change.

What’s that other idiom? “Doing the same old thing and thinking that something different will result is insanity.” Doing the same old thing is often all a person knows how to do. That is one thing. But doing the same old thing seems safer than risking doing something different. There is risk in doing something differently.

My wife and I usually go out to eat breakfast on Sunday mornings. If we go to Amici’s in Dockyard, I will have a Scottish Salmon omelette with Swiss cheese, onions, and mushrooms. The waiter there, my wife’s “adopted son”, knows this. He starts writing it down without me having to say a word. If we go to Bouché, I will have a Parisienne omelette with Swiss cheese. I have contemplated on occasion getting something else, but that would be a risk. I know I like those things, but I might not like something different.

That is a very mundane and innocuous example of how the familiar is easy and the unfamiliar requires taking a chance; it’s not so easy. It is much more difficult to change the order of service at church, initiate date-nights with one’s spouse, stop gambling, start wearing make up, start working out on a regular basis, stop being critical of other people even while still attempting to think critically about ideas, proposals, values, or public policies.

I once was pastor of a small, rural church along the North Tillamook coast in the state of Oregon, USA. One day, I decided to move the furniture. So, before the next Sunday service, I moved the carpeted choir risers (we had no choir actually) down onto the floor, and put the pulpit down there closer to the people. I then arranged the movable chairs in a semicircle. On Sunday the people came in, and there was a buzz. Later the buzz became a grumble. Even though we had no choir, and even though when I preached and was closer to the people so as to make a better connection, it was unfamiliar. It was change.

Change is costly. Moving the furniture around in church cost me something in that church. Not going along any longer on someone else’s “ride,” will cost something as well. Setting boundaries when for years there have been none, will make things uncomfortable for others; there is a risk in setting boundaries that other people will not understand, will not be able to tolerate them, or will not respect them. There is the risk in changing something about oneself that other people will not like it, not like you for doing it, and will not be able to tolerate the changes. But what are you going to do if you really want something better in life? Growth in a person comes from doing something differently. Not all change is growth, but all growth requires change.

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Published June 18, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 17, 2013 at 4:16 pm)

Not all change is growth, but all growth requires change

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