Contemplating Change - Or Stuck In Contemplation?


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Making a change in your lifestyle is challenging. Do you often find yourself in the “contemplation" stage - that stage where you know you have a problem, you struggle to understand it, but you don’t have a clue as to how you’ll solve it? And maybe you’re not even sure you really want to exert the effort needed to make the change.

This doesn’t have to be confined to a problem, or a habit you want to break. It can also be about starting something new, something that could be enjoyable for you and offer rewards – e. g. going back to school to change careers, learning to play the piano, offering a new product line in your business. Something that requires you to step out of your usual way of being.

I faced this when I thought about starting a business in recovery life coaching. I had the idea because this is what I was looking for myself and couldn’t find. But was this a valid business idea? Did people really need my help? Would this work? Could I stand being more visible by having a website and putting myself out there? I went round and round trying to research it and think it through. Weeks would go by and I’d realize that I was no closer to my goal, despite consuming a lot of coffee. I felt frozen in place.

That “frozen in place" feeling is the result of ambivalence – my desire to change, to try something different, existed simultaneously with an unwitting resistance to it. By postponing action I was keeping my anxiety at bay.

Here are some of the traps:

1. The search for absolute certainty – you explore every aspect of an issue to determine its origin. You hope that the problem will go away if you find enough pieces to the puzzle. But you get bogged down. The reality is that you may never know the cause of certain problems, and generally a problem has many factors contributing to it. If it’s a case of starting something new, you get caught in needing to learn more – you’re not quite good enough, not quite knowledgeable enough, to start.

2. Waiting for the magic moment – you talk about your problem until all your friends get sick hearing about it. You find excuses to delay action. You believe, somehow, that there will be a magic moment that is perfect for change, a right time. Serious consequences to not changing still seem too distant or too long-term to matter.

3. Wishful thinking – This is a big one. You want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to go on living as you have, but with different consequences. It’s easier to wish for change than to work toward it. “I wish I could eat what I want and not gain weight. "

4. Premature action – someone is nagging you to change, so to get them off your back you agree to do so. Then you fail. You made a half-hearted attempt to change, and then fail, by either conscious, or unconscious, design. This way you can make the other person wrong and you are off the hook.

When you hold back, you deprive the world of your talents. When you are unable to move to the next step, you deprive yourself of a more enjoyable life. I finally hired a business coach and it made the difference between me thinking about offering recovery life coaching, and actually offering the service and helping people. If you’ve been sitting on something for 6 months or longer, try something different. Here are some suggestions:

-Self-revaluation – look at your essential values and see if they’re in conflict with your problem behaviors. You can focus on the negative side, i. e. how disgusted you are with your weight problem. But a more compelling pull is a positive, forward-looking assessment. How can you structure your life to be more aligned with your values? For example, do you value a healthy body, and want to nourish it with good food and enjoyable exercise?

-Look at a scenario in which you don’t change. Pick a time 5 years from now. See your health, or other aspects of your life, deteriorate further. See the dream that you have never come to fruition. Are you willing to accept this? Or will you regret it in 5 years when you look back and realize you missed an opportunity to start?

-Hire your own coach. Often we take the stance that we can do everything by ourselves, and that we should “pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. " Nothing could be further from the truth! My coaching is designed to help you achieve your heart’s desires by giving you structured assistance and unwavering support. You can move in big or little steps – it’s up to you - but you’ll know you are moving in the direction you want to go.

Martha Ruske is a marriage and family therapist in California. She currently works with people in long-term recovery from alcoholism, helping them step out into the fuller life they deserve. Find out about the benefits of recovery life coaching and get a free workbook at


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