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Why People Don't Change Even if They Want and How Coaching Can Help

One psychological model that I find helpful in my work is the idea of stages in change in Motivational Interviewing. In particular, this model works well with people’s "resistance" to change.

In this model, the coach or the therapist is relieved from putting pressure on a person who is not ready to change. More about the specifics of the model later, but for now, what’s important is the idea that humans go through multiple stages in their decision making.

Credit: Social Work Tech

It’s hard, if not impossible to force someone else to change (whether it’s your client, partner, or friend) if they do not want to, or before they are ready. That is why one needs to have patience with themselves and others. Even when you know what type of behavior will bring you what you want, it might take a while to manifest it into reality. Even when you know what your meaning and passion are, what kind of life you want to create, what kind of relationships, career, or creative projects, it might take you a while to start taking action consistently.

When an adequately trained coach or therapist is discussing “change” with a client, the goal is not to lecture the client about their resistance or openness to change. Instead, the coach or the therapist simply helps the client explore their ambivalence or confusion about making changes in their life. Initially, the goal is not to break someone out of their “prison” by forcing them to make changes; the goal initially is to get the person to see they are in prison to begin with. That is also one of the goals in many Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism; waking up to the understanding that one has been asleep.

If a person in prison had any chance of escape, then the person must first realize that they are in prison. So long as someone fails to realize this, so long as someone thinks they are free, they have no chance whatsoever. No one can help or liberate by force someone who thinks they are free. If you want to be free, you can only achieve it as a result of great labor and, above all, of conscious effort, toward a definite aim.

When a coach, a mentor, or a therapist, can show a client that they are in a prison of their habitual beliefs, stories and behaviors, the therapist is not fighting the person’s resistance with force. Rather, a therapist can help their client see more clearly the obstacles between them today and where they want to be.

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