Action Doesn't Create Change

Uncategorized Jun 14, 2018


Knowledge doesn't create change.


If knowledge were enough to create change no-one would be smoking, drinking in excess, overeating or over-indulging in the many of the wonderful things that we love but are 'bad' for our health. We know it's 'bad', but we do it anyway. Knowledge alone does not create behaviour change. 


Action alone, also doesn't create change. 


*insert audible gasp and outrage from the entrepreneurial coaches out there screaming 'action' and 'hustle' and 'no plan b' from the rooftops. 


So many of the courses and coaching programs I come across online are delivering (and even harping on) about action-oriented programs, when a large segment of their audience and/or client-base are not yet prepared for action, and will not be well served by action-oriented approaches. 


People who are not yet prepared for action are often seen as procrastinators, lacking in motivation or conviction, and even ambivalent to change. However, in this post, I hope to shed some new light on that perspective using the Model of Behaviour Change, or Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change, to be specific.


Now, typically, we look at this model in terms of changing health behaviours or negative behaviours (such as quitting smoking and wearing condoms) and there are pros and cons to the model. However, this is an opinion piece I'm writing, and I think it will be helpful at a minimum, to look at our behaviour from a new perspective as we make career or business change, and be less critical of ourselves when we feel like we're not taking consistent action towards our goals, or not 'keeping up' with other people in the industry.


When we're embarking on building a new business, or following the seed of an idea, or trying to create something and then make it better in our lives, we're trying to create (and sustain) significant change in our life for the better. That's not easy! I think this is a relevant model to consider when we're wondering why we're stuck, why we have a run of motivation and inspiration and then a period of uncertainty, and why we have spurts of success but find them hard to sustain. 


Here's a pictorial interpretation of the model originally developed by Prochaska and DiClemente and later built on by researchers to include the 6th phase of termination/advocacy/transcendence, made prettily into my branding colours.



I'm going to use myself as an example to illustrate my point. Here is what I went through:


Pre-contemplation - when I first started my business, it wasn't because of a life-long dream to start a business. I didn't even think starting a business was an option for me. I thought starting a business was for people with a business degree. I was in pre-contemplation, I had no intention of changing my existing behaviour.


However, I was growing quite miserable in my (secure, well-paid, highly sought after, government) job. I was moving towards the next stage, contemplation. I was having thoughts such as 'there must be more to life!'  I also had a tendency to moan about my (then) current position, and my (then) current soul-destroying boss.


Contemplation - enter a series of boozy dinners with my successful business people cousins who informed me (after listening to my misery stories) that the world has changed, and you don't need a business degree to do business. I'm in the contemplation stage! Maybe I could be in control of my own destiny, maybe I could be my own boss, maybe I could work the way I wanted to work, maybe I could work from anywhere, maybe there is not a glass ceiling above me, maybe I'm the person who can do this!


In this stage, people are thinking maybe they can and should make their lives better. They can be seen as procrastinators and a bit ambivalent when what they're really doing is weighing up the pros and cons, grappling with the cost of giving up their secure income and venturing into the unknown, compared to the potential benefits, doing quite a bit of introspection, wondering how it will affect their identity, their significant others. 


I got stuck spent quite a bit of time at this stage because of fear, self-doubt, no self-confidence "who am I to think I can actually do this?" And I continue to revisit this stage. Silver lining: contemplation can be a lovely stage filled with boozy dinners with lovely, successful business people  friends and cousins. 


Preparation - Preparation stage is a transition stage. There's surely more introspection, but there's also a commitment and determination to change, and steps are being taken.


For our family business, this involved my husband doing some re-training from Engineering into the fitness industry. It involved research and planning, starting conversations and building new networks. We carved out our first business plan (that was completely rubbish, in hindsight, yet still an important and valuable step towards getting to where we are today). The preparation stage for us contained a LOT of planning because I am a recovering perfectionist and the very first time I went through the preparation stage (and I've been through it many times and continue to do so) I was of the belief that everything had to be quite perfect, and that it was possible to figure it out in my own head, and perfect it in there before putting it out into the world (this is a grossly inaccurate and time-wasting belief, fyi).


Action - Now, all the stages in this model of change have blurry lines. Preparation and action are great examples of this for me, and for new business owners in general. I thought I was taking meaningful action because my first steps were around doing things like investing in and building a beautiful website, designing and printing beautiful business cards and flyers, investing in a beautiful logo and branding kit, having our car wrapped etc. With the benefit of hindsight, I think perhaps these things are things that belong in the preparation stage...we were building our confidence, but were more focused on making it look like we were terribly successful and important, than genuinely putting ourselves and what we had to offer 'out there'. 


Maintenance - 


Ah-ha! Here you thought this was a lovely cycle of change and we were ready to go from action to more action and then to maintenance. But this is not the case, sadly. Here you might find you're in the action phase, and something you learn in the action phase trips you back into contemplation or even pre-contemplation. For us, when we had no more car wraps and business cards and website jobs and 'perfecting type things' to hide behind, when we actually put ourselves and our service 'out there' we quickly realised that our business plan was grossly off the mark and we needed to go back to the drawing board. Just one of many examples of this stages of change cycle flicking you from action, right back to contemplation. 


It's scary as hell to put yourself and your business idea out there. You might think you're going alright, and then suddenly all it takes is for someone to give you a thoughtless, negative or condescending comment and you can be thrown straight back into "Who am I to even think I can do this?" mode like a very unlucky roll in a game of snakes and ladders. THEN, you could be stuck there for an unknown period of time, learning, and introspecting, and fortressing, before you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, roll the dice again and sneak back out of contemplation, into preparation and finally dip your toe into action again!


This is one negative example because it's fear-based, but we all have fears, and overall it's actually a very positive step. You take some action, so you LEARN something because actually doing is key to learning (remember knowledge is not power until you actually apply it). You learn something because you're brave enough to try. You're self-aware and perceptive and very open to learning. Then the thing that you learned caused you to take stock. Reflect. Contemplate. Then you made a plan that was slightly tweaked or adjusted based on your new knowledge and experience. This is seriously good stuff! You're way further ahead than those who were never brave enough to try, to those who are still trying to perfect everything in their own head and also to those who steamroll through taking an action-action-action approach but never actually listening, learning, and adjusting. 


Let's say after a bit of do-si-do back and forth, you get to the part where you're in the action phase consistently and you're doing great work, you're moving into:


Maintenance - Maintenance is the stage where what you're putting into place is working, and it's consistent. You're less likely to lapse back into old behaviours.


I want to address now, the assumptions that a lot of people who are new to business, or leadership, or leveling up in general make:

(a) success is linear (it isn't. Success is never a direct line from a -> b)

(b) success is an endpoint (it isn't. You don't 'achieve success'. Once you reach a stage that feels successful, the job of maintaining it continues to be very challenging. Some even say more challenging, as you're dealing with larger numbers, you have a lot more eyes (and opinions) on what you're doing, the stakes seem much higher, and you have more to lose). 


This idea that we just have to get to the maintenance stage, and then we can let out a deep breath and relax a bit, is not the case. 


This is why in everything that I write about I'm reminding you to please, do what you do because you love the process. Do what you do because the process is inspiring and energising and meaningful and makes a difference to others in a way that matters to you.  Don't judge yourself on the outcome, but on your willingness to practice. 


Termination/transcendence/advocacy - this sixth step was not in the original stages of change model, and many articles still report on this stage being 'relapse'. Researchers building on the model, have added it and acknowledge that while relapse can still happen in this stage, it is viewed more as a valuable learning experience than a failure (I love this). They also talk about this stage being one in which people feel very stable in their new behaviour, a sense that to go back to their old ways would feel weird, and they will go so far as to share their knowledge with others (hello, this blog). 


I love to share what I have learned and do quirky opinion pieces applying medical/health models to entrepreneurship. I absolutely feel transcendence, in that I will never go back to 'the way things were'. However, I'm also committed to this learning and growing to be a life-long experience. If we don't continue to evolve and change we'll be left behind, and for me, unfulfilled. I'll be happy to continue hanging out within the various cycles of change, they're all valuable, and the upward spiral you see in the middle of the diagram is my inspiration as I continue to take each experience and make it better. 


I'd love to hear from you, what was the most valuable part of this post, for you and your business/idea?


Want to talk some more?


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