Understanding the Change Cycle in Coaching
By Aoife Harrington, March 2011
Change is inevitable in all aspects of life. In the business world the rate of change is ever increasing, with new technologies, new competitors, new products, new markets, new customers and new demands appearing every single day. Because it’s going to happen whether we like it or not, change should be looked upon as an opportunity for growth and development – a way to make ourselves as people and the environments in which we live and work better.
The vast majority of people come to coaching because they would like things to be different; they want less of something or more of something else. Better leadership skills, greater work/life balance, less stress, more success. In order to make these ideals happen, however, change needs to occur. The good news is that change follows a particular cycle and understanding this cycle offers a platform for working towards change in a structured and coherent way.
A particularly useful model for looking at change in general and also change in coaching was developed by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. It is particularly useful in helping people to break away from habitual forms of behaviour that can be problematic, for example a tendency to procrastinate, a lack of assertiveness or an inability to delegate.
This 6 stage model or cycle of change describes a person’s level of motivation to change behaviour and also their level of progress in actually modifying that behaviour. There are two main types of change processes outlined in the model – cognitive and behavioural. Cognitive Change Processes reflect changes in the way we think and these processes help us move through the early stages of change. Behavioural Change Processes focus on how we actually behave and these processes help us to move through the later stages of change.
6 Stage Model of Change: How it Applies to Coaching
Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation:
People at this stage have no intention of changing. In fact they may not even perceive that there is a problem, even if others feel that something is wrong or needs attention. Helping to raise awareness of the problematic behaviour and providing appropriate information, in a non-authoritarian way, as to why the change might be useful are critical at this stage.
Stage 2 – Contemplation:
At this stage the person is aware that a problem exists, they are thinking about changing but have made no commitment to take action. Here the person tends to be ambivalent and while they can see some benefits in changing, they are also aware of, or may even be experiencing, the benefits of not changing. Weighing up the pro’s and con’s of changing can be very powerful in moving a person from Stage 2 to Stage 3. Considering small changes that may move a person in the direction of the bigger change should also be explored.
Stage 3 – Decision/Preparation:
At this stage the person makes a decision to change. There is a firm commitment to change and plans are formulated to accomplish that goal. This can often occur after some specific triggering event which increases the person’s motivation to change. Commitment to change should be formally documented in writing and any goals that are set should be achievable, measurable, realistic and directly related to the desired behavior change.
Stage 4 – Action:
In this stage the plan is put into effect and the change is made.This may involve stopping the unwanted behaviour altogether or reducing it to a more acceptable level. Monitoring and reviewing progress of the plan is important and people should be helped to acknowledge, celebrate and reward their success to date as well as reinforcing the benefits of making the change. Accessing support systems should also be encouraged.
Stage 5 – Maintenance:
In the maintenance stage changes are typically consolidated and reinforced. If things are going well, then the person maintains their progress in stopping or cutting down on the unwanted behaviour. People should be helped to recognise, however, that change and development is an ongoing process. Relapse can occur at this stage – and that is perfectly normal and natural. People at this stage of the change cycle should be encouraged not to lose heart if a relapse occurs, as this is not a sign that they cannot change. They should also be helped to look at their progress to date and to formulate a new plan to overcome the resistance or blockage to change and any setbacks that they are experiencing.
Stage 6 – Permanent Exit:
If the person is able to avoid returning to the unwanted behaviour then they can be said to have permanently exited from the change cycle. Usually this will involve effectively controlling or managing the unwanted behaviour rather than the behaviour actually disappearing. Prochaska and DiClemente propose, however, that people generally go round the 6 stage cycle several times before they are fully able to eradicate the unwanted behaviour.
The above model can be used when exploring change in coaching but also when trying to understand any personal change that you might be trying to achieve. Recognising where you are in the cycle, adopting effective strategies, remaining persistent, staying motivated, believing in yourself and following the process should increase your chances of kicking old habits and forming new, more desirable, behaviours.
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Aoife Harrington is a Registered Work and Organisational Psychologist at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists