The Precontemplation Stage
The precontemplation stage is place where you don’t recognize the problem or are in denial of it. You use all kinds of ploys to keep yourself stuck where you are.
Here are the main ones:
You can deny that there is a problem with statements like, “I don’t have a problem with this. I am in control and can stop or change it whenever I decide to.”
You blame others for it: “If he (or she) didn’t act so badly, I wouldn’t have to do this.”
You rationalize it: “Hey, I balance my drinking with a lot of exercise.”
You intellectualize it: “The whole economy is based on moving money around. My gambling losses come back to me in other ways.”
You can internalize it by giving up, “This is all my fault; I am just not strong enough.”
However you decide to frame it, in this stage “you” do not hold yourself personally responsible for your behavior, in part of in total. You are missing the perspective that you are choosing to stay where you are.
Things can be even more complicated if the world around you supports the way you are. You have created, or at least contributed to the creation of, the support system for your problem. Your friends, relatives, and co-workers might actually want you stay as you are. Some of what you share with them might be associated with the thing that you want to change.
Take smoking for example. If you stop smoking, you no longer share that behavior with them. You won’t be taking cigarette breaks or you won’t enjoy smoky places. Your choice to quit smoking will separate you from them. These are called the “cons” of changing. They are seen as the downside of dropping your bad habit. These are the things that reinforce your attitude that your behavior, like smoking, is somehow necessary to your life. Although you can choose to leave, resist, fight back, offer alternatives, confront them etc, you won’t when you are in this stage. It’s like the old Tareyton cigarette commercial said, “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.”
You are usually unaware of the filtering that your brain does each and every moment, which supports the precontemplation stage. But, there are a lot of things happening all around you that goes unnoticed. It is much like the distraction a magician uses to make his sleight-of-hand maneuvers entertain you. It is magic because you didn’t “see” (perceive) a critical action that would reduce his trick to nothing more than some highly practiced, slick moves. When your brain filters out certain things, you are “magically” fooled into thinking that life is as you see it. There are no clues that it could be seen differently if only you had noticed a few other things. They were there all the time, but you didn’t notice them.
The Magic of Staying Where You Are
Precontemplation employees defenses like denial, projection, rationalization, intellectualization and internalization, which all function much like a sleight-of-hand that you use on yourself. You fool yourself into using one or more of them like lenses through which you see the world. Each offers a very clear view of the situation (problem) minus the “noise” from all the other information being filtered out by that lens.
The clarity comes not only from what has been filtered. It also comes from what is accentuated by the lens (the defense you are using). The narrow, filtered, unbalanced picture of life is the magic. It is not the joyful, mysterious kind produced with playing cards or a dove coming from nowhere. It is the darker magic whose hidden features keep you from moving into the light.
In addition to those who would have you stay the same, there are those who want to help you move in the direction of change. In that effort, however, they can actually impede your progress by pushing you into action too soon, hassling you about the situation or doing things that actually keep you doing the same thing.
They push you as they try to move you in the direction they know you need to go. Even when you want to go that direction, their nudges can actually cause you to push back. They don’t realize that you are precontemplation about changing. If you are not ready, you can’t take action without real risk of failure and frustration.
Hassling you doesn’t help either. Your friends or relatives are concerned about you. They often don’t realize how their constant comments and reminders sound to you. It’s as if they believe that one of their comments will be the breakthrough moment for you. All you need is one more reminder or one more alternative to help you see the light.
Your friends and family can also help you stay where you are without knowing it. Even though they care about you and want the best for you, they also value their relationships with you. Sometimes the changes you need to make have the potential for changing things between you and them. You might not have as much time to spend with them. You might not share some things with them like smoking or drinking alcohol.
Pros and Cons
Remember that being in the precontemplation stage doesn’t mean that you don’t see your problem or that you don’t want your life to be different. It does mean, however, that you are not ready to consider being different. Once you are, you are ready to
how life might be if you changed. Getting to that point requires that you focus on the reasons for changing – the pros, not the reasons for staying as you are - the cons.
The book, Changing for Good, presents evidence that moving successfully from precontemplation to action generally requires a ratio of 2 pros to 1 con. Pros are those good things that come to you as a result of the change, while cons are what you believe to be the advantages of not changing. During the precontemplation stage, focus is on the pros. They are the stronger drivers. Moving from contemplation to action is best served by focus on the cons. You will consider them in the next stage.
Return to Stages of Change
Return to LifeSystems101 Home Page