New year’s resolutions like taking care of your mental health are all about making changes.  

Wanting to change your life doesn't make changing easy. 

The character of Carla in Alice Munro’s short story “Runaway” is on the cusp of changing her life and leaving her abusive husband. She contemplates what change means - “The world of the future as she now pictured it was that she would not exist there.”

The unknowability of her potential future life was too terrifying and she returned to her husband.

The devil we know

Depression is familiar.

It is the “devil we know” and this simple fact alone makes change hard. It is therefore worth spending some time looking at change.

Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a technique which looks directly at change.

One of its main tools is the Prochaska and DiClemente’s ‘Cycle of Change’.

As a technique it tries to push a person towards changing as it knows they’ve already considered it.

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The client wants things to be different because they no longer feel in control of their mental health. They know that their old ways of managing and keeping in control no longer work.

A move has been made  from the first stage of the cycle - pre-contemplation - which is about denial of the problem to the second stage which is contemplation, where the problem is considered in detail.

To change or stay the same

Motivational interviewing looks at what the advantages and disadvantages of changing or staying the same might be.  

This can be helpful to know as we need to know what we are “giving up” and what we might be achieving.

If the risk is too much, they may like Carla, decide not to change.

If however they do want to change then we move onto the next two stages –“planning” the change and then putting it into “action”.

Planning to change

Coming up with a plan involves setting SMART goals. The acronym means that the goal should be:

  • Specific - described in concrete rather than vague language
  • Measurable- there must be a way of measuring progress
  • Achievable- it must be “doable”
  • Relevant- It must reflect the person’s underlying values
  • Timescale- there needs to be a benchmark as to when it will be achieved.

Change isn’t easy

The next stages in the cycle are either lapse or relapse. A lapse is a setback.  We can often trace this back to the goal setting stage- “was it SMART enough?” or to the contemplation stage-“was there a disadvantage of change that we overlooked? 

If there is relapse and the goal fails completely, we go straight back to “pre contemplation”.  For some, it may not be the right time to make the change.

The in between

Change involves being in a state of “liminality”.  Liminal spaces are “in-between” places, like airport departure lounges.

Liminal states are ones where we are no longer how we were but have no idea about what we are to become.

Going to WAR

When we do change, motivational interviewing uses the acronym WAR - Willing, Ready and Able. 

If we are willing, we really want to change. If we are able we believe that although hard, we have the resources to change.

Readiness means that this is the right time to change.  Whatever changes you are embarking on in 2018, best of luck and Happy New Year.