Shaking the Foundation to Change 8/08

August 2008

flowerbed

I consider myself pretty lucky to have an enormous back yard, complete with mature trees, a maintenance free patio, and even a sliver of privacy. This yard is ripe with potential, but frankly, it’s just a bit boring.

For a long time I contemplated ways to make it more interesting and visually pleasing. A swimming pool would be fabulous, but that would be a huge investment of muscle and money.

When the heat wave passed and a cooler head returned, I determined a perennial bed bordering the patio would provide the necessary "ooh la la" from both the house and the yard. And it would require a lot less water. But first I needed to convince my husband, as he would provide the muscle. "Pool or peonies?" I asked.

Peonies were not a tough sell.

The temptation was to immediately stick some plants in the ground, but we were already mid-way through the summer. Knowing instant gratification rarely yields fulfilling and sustainable results, I decided spring planting would be better. This meant my project would be carried over the winter. So, I spent the rest of the summer scheming and dreaming and supervising the digging. (Supervising was very hard work, but we got ‘er done.)

Now with the foundation and vision solidly in place, the bed was ready for spring.

All winter I waited anxiously. And when spring finally arrived it was just a matter of planting the flowers given to me by a friend. Job done? Not quite. Now I must coax the plants into being and tend to their every need. The journey never ends.

The garden is a process, not an event. Just like change itself. When people come to me for coaching, it’s usually because they’re ready to make some sort of change. It’s rarely an impulsive act. My clients have usually been incubating a plan for some time. And now they want help getting results.

If you’re contemplating a behavior change, or are in the midst of change, you might want to look at Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model for Change. The model says that individuals move through a series of stages in the adoption of healthy behaviors or in the elimination of unhealthy ones. You see, scheming and dreaming are not just important to landscaping.

Here’s the model. Pre-contemplation (What problem?…I’m fine) People in this stage are not even thinking about changing. They see the negatives rather than the positives and are not ready for action.

Contemplation (Not quite ready) People are beginning to think about making a change, but they’re dealing with ambivalence. "I know I need to, but…"

Preparation (I will soon) People are imagining themselves with a different behavior – a slimmer body or a smoke-free one. The begin to actively look for information; they’re making plans.

Action (Real behavior change) This is the busiest and most demanding time because people are doing things differently and fighting self-doubt. Support and self-management are necessary in this stage.

Maintenance (Hanging on to the changes) Problem solved. However, individuals must take on new attitudes, knowledge and beliefs to be successful in enabling a new behavior to become a lifelong practice.

Termination, the ultimate goal, is where individuals are now completely self-motivated. They know they can slip, but can handle whatever comes along. They don’t have any desire to go back to the old way.

For more on this model, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_Model.

Here’s where it gets interesting. These stages do not follow a simple linear path, but are rather dynamic. Most people find themselves cycling through the stages several times before the change becomes truly established. The goal is to move forward, versus making sweeping lifestyle changes. People learn from mistakes made over time, and use those improvements to move forward. In fact, each failure moves them closer to success. And of course, everyone progresses at his or her own rate, but we must eventually move to action if we want results.

Sadly, many new behaviors do not survive long term, particularly weight loss. People recycle through the stages but don’t often get to termination. I believe it’s because they haven’t built a "new" foundation, they’ve simply taken actions based on the old, often shaky foundation. However, success stories are all around us. When the change becomes important enough and is really wanted, success occurs. Humans have enormous capacity for change.

A frustrated client once said to me, "I’m taking two steps forward and one step back." I congratulated her for her progress. The movement was mostly forward.

Support, in order to move forward, is vitally important. I wouldn’t be enjoying these flowers today were it not for the borrowed truck and my muscle man. The free plants, complete with their stories, were nice too.

My little patch of flowers is no Butchart Garden. Nonetheless, these flowers provide me with a foolish amount of joy. Now I’m thinking I’d like to increase my yield of fresh vegetables. Of course you know how I feel about vegetables. A square foot garden would be just the thing.

"Honey, what do you think, vegetables or Koi pond?"