Sunday, November 30, 2003

Don't let fear block change

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

I once saw a handwritten note over a jar for tips: "If you fear change, leave it here."

To some extent, we all fear change. Yet, we all want to change - our habits, our products or services, our productivity levels, our income. And we certainly know others we want to change - our employees, partners, spouses, children.

But sometimes, no matter how much we want to change, no matter how hard we try, we just can't seem to make the transformation. One problem is that we want change to happen overnight.

Certainly, sometimes the only way to really change is to do it drastically: quit producing an unprofitable product even if some customers still want it, fire an impossible-to-please client even if we like the added cash flow.

But more often, change is a process rather than an immediate outcome - a journey rather than a destination.

Marking progress

Many managers - and teachers - say it takes at least a year for a change to fully take hold - for a new behavior to become a habit.

You can improve your chance of actually making the changes you want by thinking of progress as moving yourself - or those you want to alter - from one stage of the following process of change to the next:

1. Pre-Contemplation: You're not yet thinking of making a change.

2. Contemplation: You first begin to think about your goals. But while the goals may be desirable, they also still seem unachievable.

3. Re-framing: In this stage, you redefine the possibility of change. First, it's important to understand the link between behavior and attitude. You can't make a change if you don't believe you can succeed. In this stage, you start saying to yourself, "This is going to happen; I can make this work. I can succeed." Then you begin to re-frame what you've seen as permanent obstacles into temporary challenges that can be dealt with.

4. Plan: You think through the steps necessary to achieve your goals and decide on an action plan.

5. Commitment: You make a definite commitment to your goals and a clear decision to act on your plan.

6. Trial: You begin to make behavioral changes. You may start by immediately plunging in completely, or you may be tentative, but the behavior is inconsistent, and you can easily fall back into old patterns after your initial burst of enthusiasm.

Now comes the really critical part.

7. Re-Commitment: You remind yourself of your goals, your plan, and your belief that you are capable of success. The scariest part of change is when you're in the middle. You've come part of the way, but you haven't left the old ways behind entirely.

8. Habit: You consistently change your behavior. Perhaps you have an occasional lapse, but your habitual practices are the ones you want. Success!

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." Register for her free business planning newsletter at

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