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Support for Change

A small boy attempted to move a boulder on a hillside. It wouldn’t move. He pushed harder and harder on the huge rock. It wouldn’t budge. His father called out to him, “Son, use all your resources.”

So the boy thought and thought. Instead of pushing, he moved to a different angle and pulled and tugged with all his might instead of pushing. The rock wouldn’t budge. “Again his father said, “Son, use all your resources.”

The boy sat on the ground and thought and thought some more.

“I know!” said the boy. He went to get a plank and a small rock. He made a lever and put all his weight on the end of the board. He jumped and jumped on the end of the lever, but the rock still wouldn’t budge.

“Son,” said his father, “Use all your resources.”

“I am, Daddy, I am. I am using all my resources. What else can I possibly do?”

“Son, ask me to help you.”

Together, they rolled the boulder down the hill.

That great, old tradition of “I can do it all by myself” has its limitations. In some situations, self-reliance can actually be a weakness if carried too far. How often have you watched someone trying to “tough out” a case of flu that just won’t go away, when a doctor’s appointment would have been more appropriate? Attempting to quit smoking and failing repeatedly? Never quite getting an exercise program off the ground?

An important indicator of psychological health is the ability to ask for help when it’s needed. According to recent scientific research, the vast majority of individuals who attempt to make lifestyle changes fail. Why?

* They don’t understand the underlying structure of the change process.

* They don’t get the right kinds of support during each phase of change.

In their book, Changing for Good (Avon Books, 1995), Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente offer recommendations for getting the most from your supporters in each of the five stages preceding the sixth and final stage of Termination. Here are a few of their many suggestions:

* Precontemplation: Listen to feedback from others who are trying to get your attention about the need for change. (Raising consciousness and increasing awareness are important, but nagging, pushing, giving up, and enabling don’t help).

* Contemplation: Ask for empathy, warmth, information, and input from those around you.

* Preparation: Enlist family and friends in your efforts; tell people exactly how they can help you; let them know you’re about to go through a tough time; and ask for their understanding.

* Action: “Go public” if you haven’t already; enlist at least one “buddy” to make the change with you; ask helpers to help you set up your environment to minimize temptation.

* Maintenance: Ask your helpers to remember that back-sliding and recycling are part of the process of change; help others make the same changes; and above all, be persistent and patient with yourself.

Sometimes it seems that the process of establishing new habits to replace destructive ones is a trip through an endless, confusing maze. The way is known, however, and by following the guidance provided by scientific evidence, you can make your journey an adventure instead of a nightmare.

The old idea of independence and rugged individualism is gradually giving way to a more sophisticated vision of interdependence. No one can do everything alone. In addition to the inner support you provide for yourself, there will be times when a little “leaning” is the most intelligent action you can take.

Reaching out for help allows you to access your own resources as well as those of the people around you. They want you to succeed. And when your buddy needs a little assistance, you’ll be able to say, “Don’t go it alone. Ask me to help.”