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Which of the following best describes how you feel about your emotional well being?

    • As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing much I could do that would make me feel better about myself and my life.
    • It might be worthwhile to change a few things about myself.
    • I have a pretty good idea of what I could be doing that would make feel better, but I can't seem to actually do these things consistently.
    • I am doing something to deal with the problems that have been bothering me.
    • It worries me that I might slip back on a problem I've made good progress on. So I'm looking for some help to keep from slipping back.

If you answered "yes" to two to five on these questions -- or you know someone else who would answer in this range-- you may be interested in a program to help midlife and older women move toward more positive mental health attitudes and behaviors.

This project is based on an important model of how people change -- and how they resist change. Most of us have attempted to change either our own behavior or the behavior of another person.  Many of these attempts have some short-term success, but the old patterns reassert themselves after six months or so.

The "Stages of Change" model has been developed by researchers who realized that there is a pattern to how individuals confront challenges to change.

They identified six stages in the process of change, which they termed:

    • Precontemplation (answer 1 above)
    • Contemplation (answer 2)
    • Preparation (answer 3)
    • Action (answer 4)
    • Maintenance (answer 5)

If we want to change ourselves or others, it is crucial to know these stages so that we can offer the incentives and support which are most effective, and avoid those which will not work. In this project we want to learn more about how to promote mental health among midlife and older women by using a stages of change model.

If you have been thinking about making a personal change that would improve your life, you are not alone. In our "Changing for Good" project Focus Groups with OWL members and friends we have been learning a lot about how we are thinking about making personal changes. If you haven't really done much about it - you are also in good company. Change is hard. Most of us prefer the familiar to what we think might be better.

"We only change when the pain of not changing is even greater than the pain of changing." Wise words shared by Richard Malcolm (publisher of Life Times, at a recent reception). 

How We Avoid Change

Some of us avoid change by searching for absolute certainty that a change will lead to a desired outcome (I will walk a mile each day this week only if you promise me that I will feel energized). Or we wait for a magical moment (I will call someone to go to the movies with me when I am feeling really confident). 

How We Can Motivate Ourselves to Change

If we want to change, we need to focus on the negative aspects of our undesirable behavior - and think about how things could be different if we could change. We need to set personal goals for change, and imagine how good we will feel about ourselves once we change. We need to seek out friends who will empathize with us about how difficult it is to make changes and praise us for making the effort. We need to avoid those who make the mistake of reassuring us that of course we can change with no great effort. It's helpful to have friends who remind us of the rewards of changing, and remind us that they like us no matter how fast or how much we change. (That seems paradoxical, but it's true: few people change under pressure or threat from others.)

The OWL "Changing for Good" Project

OWL Illinois partnered with the Institute of Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology in a project funded by the Office of Women's Health of the Illinois Department of Public Health. This special project was directed by Margaret Huyck, Ph.D., in her capacity as a professor at IIT and President of OWL Illinois.   OWL chapters are participating in several ways.

  • Focus Groups We conducted eleven focus groups (in different areas) with members and friends in OWL chapters. In these groups  women had the opportunity to identify ways in which they feel they should change in order to feel better about themselves and their lives, and to discuss the reasons they have not yet succeeded in making such changes.

  • Workshops Jean Ellzey, M.S., and Mona Krishan, M.A. have conducted eight workshops on personal change for women who are interested in learning more about emotional well being and strategies for changing. Your chapter can request another workshop on "Changing for Good."  Click here to contact the OWL Illinois office.

  • Click here to find self-help books about change

    Click here to learn about facilitating a change workshop

    Last modified September 4, 2001