I’ve already talked about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. In that post, I discuss ways to make that change, but I don’t really talk about the stages of a mindset shift. It’s not like you make the decision to make a mindset shift and BOOM! It’s done. When you want to change the way you think about something, it takes time for your mind to accept the differences and then implement them. It takes longer to make something a long-term habit. It’s one thing to start a new routine, but it’s entirely different to keep it up indefinitely.
By understanding the stages of change, you’ll find it a lot easier to stick to the new habits you want to implement into your routine. When I am working with executive function clients, we first assess where they are on their mindset journey. Then, through the use of tools, strategies, and routines, they can move through the stages to firmly change their mindset.
Remember: Everything is a process.
6 Stages of a Mindset Shift
The first stage of change is known as precontemplation. This is where you aren’t really thinking of changing. You may be in denial that you need to change, or you simply may not realize that it is needed. In this stage, you often tell yourself that you have everything under control (even when you don’t), and that the way you do things works for you.
It is common to feel like you’re trapped in the routines and life you currently have. To progress from this stage, you’ll want to assess your situation and look honestly at areas which could potentially require change.
During the contemplation stage, you’ll start thinking about the benefits of change. In this stage you start to recognize that there might be better ways to do things, and maybe you don’t have all of the answers. However, your mind may be conflicted over the costs of change. Nothing changes without a trade-off. Often during this stage, you might believe that the potential negative consequences outweigh the benefits.
This stage can last anywhere from weeks to years. Sadly, a lot of people don’t even make it past the contemplation phase. Taking action is fucking hard. Especially if you’re not sure where to start. It’s easier to stay where you are because you know what to expect. The unknown is scary. If you find it difficult to get past the thinking phase and start acting, you’re stuck. It’s your choice to either stay stuck or move forward.
To overcome the contemplation dilemma, spend time weighing up the cost and benefits of both staying the same and changing. As I said, there’s always a trade-off. There are pros and cons to both.
For example, maybe you want to get more sleep at night.
What are the benefits of changing? You’ll be well rested and have more energy. Your immune system will be stronger.
What are the disadvantages of the change? You might have to give up something you enjoy, like binge-watching a show until late into the night or gaming online with friends at midnight.
What are the benefits of staying where you are? You know what to expect—you’ve been living on little sleep for a long time and you’re used to it. You can do the thing you enjoy (TV, gaming).
What are the disadvantages of staying the same? You’re always tired. You have a hard time focusing during the day because of lack of sleep.
Looking at the pros and cons of each side will give you a full picture to help you decide if this change is what’s best for you right now. Think about any obstacles you might face and try to find ways to overcome them. Maybe those obstacles are overwhelming. That doesn’t mean you’ve chosen a bad thing to change. It just means that now isn’t the right time. By going into change a little more prepared, you’ll find it much easier to stick to.
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Preparation and determination
The preparation and determination stages are where you’ll start to make changes towards your overall goal. This is when you’re ready. You realize that things are not working as well as they should or that you want. You accept that other people might have suggestions that will work for you if you’re willing to try.
This is an experimental stage, where you start to learn which habits to adopt to reach your goals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: real change takes time. You will try things that you hate. That’s okay. Abandon it. Try another. Maybe you find something that works, but it’s too much. Look for a way to simplify it. There is a lot of trial and error involved in not only changing your mindset, but also in finding the executive functioning systems and routines that work best for you.
This is a learning stage. Learn more about the changes you need to make. Find information and tips on websites, talk to your doctor or ask friends and family for their input on the issue.
Once you know what changes you’re ready to make, along with the challenges or obstacles you might face, start making a list. Write down the changes you will be implementing, and break them down into small, manageable goals.
Now that you have identified what you need to do to make a change, the next step is action. In the last step you were finally ready to take action. This is the step where it happens. You need to follow through on the list you created in the preparation stage.
Celebrate your success, however small, because it will motivate you to keep it up. However, don’t beat yourself up if you stumble. And you will. If this shit was easy, I wouldn’t have a job as a coach. It’s okay to enlist support. When you’re working with a family member, you might be that support. Congratulate them when they handle their shit. Offer suggestions when they fall. How can you help them be successful on their own?
This stage often lasts a long time because turning new ideas into routines into habits takes time. You’ll have to make adjustments along the way.
In the maintenance stage, it’s all about avoiding past behaviors and solidifying new behaviors. At this point, you know what your triggers are and you have a whole box of tools and strategies you can implement to keep yourself on track.
Whenever you successfully stop yourself from relapsing—falling into old, negative patterns—congratulate yourself. Celebrate your successes and you’ll find it much easier to carry on.
While we all hope that this last one isn't a stage in our mindset shift, it’s common to relapse when you’re starting new habits. It’s totally normal and okay. Everyone slips up at some point, but the important thing is not letting it send you off-course. Mistakes can easily send us spiraling into negativity.
When you do relapse, you’ll likely feel guilty and a failure. You might also feel disappointed and frustrated with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. If you do, you’re more likely to give up on your new habits. Instead, look at why you relapsed.
What was it that triggered the relapse? By identifying what made you slip-up, you can learn from it. That way, the next time you’ll be able to avoid what triggered you. It can be useful to reassess your techniques to see if you need to make any adjustments.
As you start your journey toward having a growth mindset, remember that a mindset shift occurs in stages. How long you spend at each stage will vary depending on how open you are to the changes and how much work you put in to make them happen. Even if you don’t have as much time and energy as someone else, you can still start on the path. It’s okay to go at your own pace. There is no reason to rush. It’s not a race. Do what you need to do to make things work for you.