Stages and Phases of Change
When I was researching how change happens for my PhD, I discovered it has four stages and three phases (the space between the stages). Kind of like steps in a staircase. The stages are the stair treads and the phases are the stair risers. And the result of traveling through the process is the same… you change levels. So where do you start?
Stage One – Unconscious Unknowing
The first stage is Unconscious Unknowing. The formal model labeled it “Unconscious Incompetence” but I took exception to that. When someone is in this stage, they are not incompetent. They just don’t know what they don’t know. Although this has frequently been described as “blissful ignorance” – that description usually comes from people who have already moved past this stage and are struggling with their change process.
It is human nature to look back at the past and remember it differently than it actually was. If we don’t like the present, the past is often perceived as better, “the good old days”. Our memories are selective. So our experiences are subjective – filtered through our models and frameworks for interpreting the world.
Most people in Stage 1 are NOT blissfully ignorant. In fact, they often feel powerless and fearful. Because they don’t know what they don’t know, they are limited in their ability to make effective change in their lives. They live in “victim-think” where the world is constantly happening to them and there is nothing they can do about it. Not fun.
Phase One – Initiation
So how does one get out of Stage 1? By entering into Phase 1 – Initiation. This is the beginning of the change process. In Phase 1, people wake up. They realize that not only do they want a change, but also that change might actually be possible.
Phase 1 usually happens when people have hit their limit. That point where they have had enough. Enough fear, enough struggle, enough abuse – and they just can’t take it any more.
As human beings, we are wired to move away from pain and toward pleasure, but we move faster to get away from pain. The thing is, we all have varying tolerances for pain. Some of us can put up with amazing amounts of physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual pain for years!
At some level, we are afraid that things won’t be any different if we change. And the bigger fear is that things could get even worse. People get comfortable with their pain. In fact, over 90% of the population will choose comfort with the known over discomfort with the unknown – even when their current circumstances suck!
This is so common that there are a number of well-known sayings warning people about the dangers of change. Like “out of the frying pan into the fire”; “better the devil you do know than the one you don’t”; and, “better safe than sorry”.
So until we reach the point where we will not tolerate the existing situation for even one more day, we tend not to take action. It just doesn’t hurt enough. But when it does hurt enough, when you decide you’ve had enough, then an Initiation takes place and change begins to happen. You awaken from unconsciousness and realize you do know that you don’t know – a powerful “oh shit” moment.
So to quickly summarize: Stage 1 – Unconscious Unknowing; Phase 1 – Initiation / Awakening
We’ll talk about the next step tomorrow. But until then think about this – what are you tolerating in your life? What is painful, but not yet painful enough to make a change?
Share some of your breakthrough experiences below. I’d love to hear about what caused you to enter into the Initiation phase.