Making changes

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to make a change, even for the better. But making the effort usually has a happy ending. TIM SHARP

Timothy Sharp Happiness Institute

By Tim Sharp

In my last blog posting I referred to the difficulties we all have, at times, making changes… even when we know we should be doing something differently.

If you ask almost anyone who drinks, gambles or spends excessively, anyone who’s overweight, or anyone that smokes, they’ll typically acknowledge that they know what they’re doing is wrong or not in their best interests. And many of them will even note that they know what they should do differently; but most will hit the wall when it comes to actually doing what they know they probably should do.

Which brings me to the focus of this blog posting – the three main reasons why many people continue with bad habits even when they know they’re bad.

  1. They’re either not aware of what they’re doing, or they don’t consider it to be wrong or unhelpful.
  2. They know what they’re doing is not good but they don’t know what else to do.
  3. Or they know they need to change, they even know what they have to change and how to change it, but they keep getting sucked back in to their bad old ways.

Now what I’m talking about here isn’t just relevant to smoking, eating or drinking. What I’m talking about here applies to any behaviour we might want to change, and even more so, to any behaviour we might like to see changed in others (such as our employees or colleagues, and even in our loved ones and friends).

Changing isn’t always easy, in fact it’s often damn difficult, but it is very much possible – and understanding some of the basic psychological principles of human behaviour can help you become better, and it can help you help those around you become better (which in a work context can mean anything from happier and more engaged, to more efficient and productive).

The first thing to understand is that change is not an all or nothing thing. It’s not as though we’re good or bad, hot or cold, changed or not changed! Rather, research suggests there are several stages to change and that we need to tailor our approach depending on what stage we’re currently in.

In 1983 two psychologists, Prochaska and DiClemente, proposed a model (sometimes referred to as the Transtheoretical Model of Change) which explains intentional behaviour change along a temporal dimension.

Based on more than two decades of research, the model proposes that individuals move through a series of steps to achieve change, beginning with pre-contemplation, moving through contemplation and preparation, and then finally on to action and maintenance.

This applies equally to the cessation of unhelpful behaviours (or bad habits) and to the adoption of healthy and constructive (or desirable) behaviours (see here for a succinct summary).

The first step, then, is to determine what stage you are (or your employee/colleague is) in. Is he aware of the need to change? Is he aware but still needing more time to think about things? Is he beginning to prepare and research what’s required for change or has he even started to do things differently?

Depending on the answers to these questions, different strategies will be more or less appropriate. In our coaching, we spend much of our time thoroughly assessing where someone’s up to and what will work best for them – but in simple terms, and in the same order as the stages listed above.

The best approach will typically be increasing awareness, research and analysis, planning, taking action and then finally, building resilience and preparing to deal with challenges to ensure the straight and narrow path is maintained.

As already noted, change is not necessarily easy, but in the wise and true words of JF Kennedy: “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (published August 2008) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the Comments panel below.

For more Dr Happy blogs, click here.




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