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Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutionsby John C. Norcross
From one of America’s foremost authorities on personal change comes the blueprint for his cutting-edge system, showing readers how to execute permanent lifestyle changes in just five steps.
Over the course of three decades, Dr. John C. Norcross, an internationally recognized expert on behavior change, has researched how people successfully/b>
From one of America’s foremost authorities on personal change comes the blueprint for his cutting-edge system, showing readers how to execute permanent lifestyle changes in just five steps.
Over the course of three decades, Dr. John C. Norcross, an internationally recognized expert on behavior change, has researched how people successfully change—often without professional treatment. That research has been supported by millions of dollars in federal grants and has helped thousands of study participants achieve lasting change. Now, this revolutionary approach to personal improvement, incorporating the most up-to-date scientific findings, is being made available to a mainstream readership as a practical guide.
From smoking and drinking to the patterns that lead to obesity, depression, and relationship distress, Dr. Norcross’s methodology has rescued real people from dozens of behavioral ailments. Changeology converts scientifically proven techniques into a ninety-day plan with five simple steps: Psyche (get ready), Plan (prepare before leaping), Perspire (take action), Persevere (manage slips), and Persist (maintain change). Backed by self-tests, a free interactive website for customizing plans and receiving support, and cases featuring the most popular behavioral goals, this is the ultimate tool for realizing any New Year’s resolution—and sticking to it.
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"Norcross is the Billy Beane of personal-change gurus, using reams of psychological studies the way a sabermetrician uses baseball statistics. He'll be the first to tell you that this scientific approach beats magical thinking."
"Change isn't easy but if there's anyone out there who can convert skeptics to believers, it's Norcross."
"Dr. Norcross has revolutionized the psychology of change and now offers a remarkable five step program for more than 50 common complaints that plague many of us. You can learn to change your life today."
“Changing a habit involves two things: knowing how to change and knowing what to change. This book, by a true master scientist of change, is the best book I know about the steps YOU can take to make and to sustain the changes YOU want to make.”
“Finally, a self-help book based on solid scientific evidence by psychology’s smartest myth-buster. The science of change has finally arrived, and the you who starts this book won’t be the you who finishes it.”
“Changeology is a powerful tool for those seeking the happiness lasting change can bring. Science tells us that if you can change your behavior, you can increase your happiness. This simple, research-based plan will show you how to begin a new life free of old, bad habits and full of inner peace and well-being.”
“The title says it all. This clearly written, easy to follow, and scientifically grounded guide provides a step-by-step map to effective self-improvement. Already widely known and respected in professional circles, Dr. Norcross is now sharing his work for use by everyone.”
“When you are ready to move from just ‘talking the talk’ to ‘walking the walk,’ turn to Changeology. John Norcross has accomplished a rare feat—translating thirty years of sophisticated psychological research into practical, understandable, doable steps that really work for changing behavior. I recommend this book as a top choice to achieve important goals.”
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Read an Excerpt
CHANGEOLOGY: WHAT IT IS AND
WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU
Let’s begin with the end in mind: think of one, maybe two, things that you’d like to change in yourself, something you really want to modify about your behavior. If you’re like most people, it doesn’t take long to come up with something. Perhaps a laundry list of goals and ambitions rushes through your mind, some harder to achieve than others. Maybe a quick smile breaks out on your face when you proudly recall a goal you have recently realized. Perhaps, too, you feel a brief pang of guilt for not trying to change certain things or a fleeting sense of dismay because your previous attempts have proven unsuccessful. All of these complicated feelings are part of the universal constellation of emotions toward change.
Now take a deep breath and consider the following: whether you’re hoping to stop smoking or gambling, commit to exercising more hours a week (maybe run a marathon), eliminate fast food and bike to work, or learn a new skill that will earn you a promotion, following the scientific program outlined in this book can dramatically increase your chance of success—without drugs or other types of formal treatment. This proven program shows you exactly how to execute the steps necessary to change on your own. And best of all: you can experience lasting results within 90 days.
Sound too good to be true? Much in the way Elisabeth Kübler-Ross distinguished stages of grief, my colleagues and I have identified five distinct stages of behavior change. This is hardly an inconsequential finding; these stages, which I’ve simplified to just 5 straightforward steps, reflect three decades of scientific research and millions of dollars in funding. Finally, this well-documented program for successful change is accessible to everyone in this practical book.
From chronic addictions to minor habits, the range of behaviors that we can change is vast but the process of change is the same. In other words, the steps an overweight individual has to take to lose pounds permanently will be the same as those taken by a workaholic seeking to cut back on time spent in the office so he can spend more time with his family. Granted, as each person passes through the steps, he or she will have different goals, but the overall experience will be astonishingly similar.
How do I know this for sure? That’s what part of this book is going to reveal to you; I’ll be detailing what I’ve learned as a clinical psychologist and university professor helping tens of thousands of people—in both research and clinical settings—achieve permanent changes.
A LITTLE HISTORY
I was there at the beginning. Not at the creation of the world, mind you, but at the start of defining one of the most effective and celebrated systems ever for changing human behavior: the Stages of Change. Before I detail exactly how you’ll create successful change in your life, let me take a few moments to introduce myself and provide the backstory. It will help you understand just how different Changeology is from any other program that you might have tried in the past.
It all started in 1980. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and Dallas was flickering across the nation’s TV screens. I had just moved to Rhode Island to earn my doctorate and to work with Dr. James O. Prochaska on his first National Institutes of Health grant to study self-change—how people modify their behavior without professional treatment. He and one of his recent graduates, Dr. Carlo C. DiClemente, were studying how a thousand people stopped smoking on their own. Little did any of us imagine that those early studies would lead to revolutionary advances in understanding how people change their behavior on their own.
Five years later, I had my clinical psychology PhD in hand and an internship at Brown University Medical School under my belt. I accepted a professorship at the University of Scranton, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. I continued my research into self-change and psychotherapy, much of it in collaboration with Jim Prochaska.
In the 1990s, the research got really interesting as research assistants and I conducted three nationally publicized studies that tracked New Year’s resolutions. We learned, scientifically speaking, what predicted some resolvers’ success and others’ failures. Our investigations also looked at change in psychotherapists—the most educated and experienced change agents. How do the experts change themselves?
After the new millennium, my comrades and I conducted another series of studies—a dozen, in fact—to identify the effectiveness of myriad self-help resources. We separated the chaff from the wheat among thousands of self-help books, autobiographies, films, and websites. We managed to determine what kind of self-help resources work and what constitutes ineffective, unscientific pabulum.
Today, there is a staggering number of published studies that have been done on the stages of change—more than two thousand and counting. Our work has added to this undeniably impressive body of research, which has enjoyed the support of $80 million in federal grant funding. Although the early studies concentrated on addictions, such as smoking, drinking, and overeating, over the years they have expanded to include three dozen challenges that millions of people face in daily living, including distressed relationships, anxiety, getting ahead at work, troubling finances, depression, and procrastination.
The program resulting from this research works across a variety of problems, across countries and cultures, and across the spectrum of healing. It’s been used successfully by individuals, couples, families, organizations, and entire health systems worldwide. What’s more, it’s been proven to work whether you’re attempting to change on your own or are armed with a self-help book, assisted by a formal support group, treated by a psychologist, bolstered by medication, or any combination thereof.
Our change system has a documented track record of success. It has guided tens of thousands of research participants and psychotherapy patients to lives filled with greater health and happiness. That same research can now guide you through the labyrinth of self-change to your goal. This revolutionary system has been translated into the step-by-step program explained in this book. In other words, you can reap the same benefits of our research that our patients have experienced—just by reading and following the advice offered in Changeology.
HOW CHANGEOLOGY DIFFERS FROM OTHER SELF-HELP
At this point you’re probably thinking, “He’s making awfully strong claims!” Or perhaps you’re silently protesting, “The usual oversold promises of self-help books.” Correct on both counts: These are strong claims, and most self-help books do guarantee unrealistic and unproven results. Decades of research validate the methods described in this book: that’s the crucial difference between Changeology and the morass of other self-help books. I deplore the insulting, antiscientific fare of most self-help books. In fact, that’s been a huge motivator for my career as a clinical psychologist, university professor, and researcher focused on studying behavior change. I have devoted decades of my life to determining what works and what doesn’t.
After investigating people’s attempts to realize their goals for 30 years, I have naturally compiled a list of pet peeves about self-help resources. They tend to fail in four ways: they are not based on research; they don’t provide specific, practical strategies; they focus on only one part of the solution; and they don’t tailor advice to the individual reader. Let’s consider each of these in turn with an eye toward how Changeology corrects them.
A staggering 95 percent plus of self-help books present no scientific research that they work as self-help, and some bestsellers even contain advice that is contradicted by available research. If FDA approval were required for the usefulness and safety of self-help books, fewer than 2 percent would be published. Flip through a popular diet book and look for research studies on how much weight loss was achieved for at least one year by people on that particular diet. You’ll find lots of testimonials and “amazing stories” but almost never any hard numbers based on controlled research. Authors’ boasts and client anecdotes don’t constitute, and should not replace, scientific research. Therein lies the first crucial difference between other self-help books and Changeology: the science.
But a self-help book that simply imparted the science would not prove helpful; it would be about as effective, as Sigmund Freud once observed, as offering a dinner menu to a starving person! Though I do have a tendency to use scientific terminology on occasion, and though I’ve written this book to appeal to the most science-averse reader, it will be useful for you to learn a few key terms as you come to appreciate the science behind the magic of self-change. But I will go further and translate that science into an abundance of specific, realistic strategies. I will lead you through the most powerful means of behavior change with armloads of examples and illustrations.
Another problem with most self-help books is their narrow focus on only one part of the change process. Imagine if someone promised to help you do your taxes but gave you advice on how to organize your receipts and nothing else. The rest of the process would remain frustrating and unfinished. Well, that aptly describes most self-help products: they feature a single part of that process: setting a goal, getting inspired, securing hugs, or learning a few behavioral strategies. But the reader winds up like the proverbial blind man with the elephant, his efforts incomplete and futile.
This book, on the other hand, encompasses the entire change process. I will patiently, supportively guide you through all 5 steps of a proven system that you can use to change on your own and customize to your own life.
In truth, this isn’t the first time that our scientific research and program have been published in a book for a general audience. In 1994, Drs. Jim Prochaska, Carlo DiClemente, and I published our popular Changing for Good. But a lot has happened since then, both in the scientific arena and in the world at large, which now operates at warp speed and sets individuals up for new challenges and behavioral problems. Hence, Changeology updates our cutting-edge research and expands its applications. I’ll be presenting a broader approach to achieving personal improvement and goals, as opposed to our earlier emphasis on eradicating bad habits. I’ll also be focusing primarily on the crucial first 90 days of the change process, which omits those people not yet ready to consider change.
THE POWER OF CONNECTION
Changeology personalizes your journey in two important ways: first, it guides you step by step and tells you exactly what to do and when to do it; and second, you’ll be able to maximize this book’s instructions with the help of an interactive website (www.ChangeologyBook.com) at no cost or obligation to you.
To receive personalized support online, visit www.ChangeologyBook.com. This will allow you to save your goals, track your progress, print out the worksheets in this book, and complete additional activities. Harness the power of the Web as you read this book and beyond. All of the exercises and activities at www.ChangeologyBook.com begin in this book.
The icon at the beginning of this paragraph, which shows 5 steps within a delta symbol (delta stands for “change”), appears throughout this book. Wherever you see it, you’ll know that an online application is available to you based on a suggested exercise. There you’ll have access to 12 free online activities that will assist you in executing many of the specific strategies suggested. The work you do online in conjunction with this book will help you tailor the program to your specific goals.
USING THIS BOOK EFFECTIVELY
As I’ve already noted, you can change virtually any voluntary behavior using the formula in this book. I will address the most popular behavioral goals and resolutions, such as enhancing relationships, losing weight, acquiring new skills, quitting smoking, starting an exercise regimen, improving your finances, boosting your self-esteem, and reducing your alcohol consumption, but this needn’t be an exclusive list. In other words, while the central points in the book address these goals, you are not limited to them. The research-proven methods of Changeology can be applied toward a vast array of personal goals. You may want to help others by delivering meals to the elderly or teaching children. You may be going through a time when accepting change is necessary to weather a major life challenge, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, unemployment, or prolonged misfortune. As we’ll see in this book, following the Changeology program can help you make all kinds of changes.
To help you know what you should be doing and when, regardless of your particular goal, the Check Yourself sections will be your guide. I’ll also offer some general To Dos at the beginning of each detailed step that will give you a heads-up about what to expect. Obviously, I cannot detail the specifics to every type of possible change a person may want to make; you won’t find a daily menu plan for losing 20 pounds, for instance; you’re going to create that on your own using the tools I provide. The examples I showcase, however, will give you guidance on what you should be doing every step of the way.
You should prepare to follow the program for 90 days. Why? Because behavioral research indicates that it takes 90 days to prepare for change, build a new behavior, become confident in the face of high-risk triggers, and move past the likelihood of relapse. Brain research also suggests that it takes a few months of practicing a new behavior to create permanent change.
More than 75 percent of people maintain a goal for a week but then they gradually slip back into old behavior. However, research shows that almost all of the people who maintain a new behavior for three months make the change permanent; the probability of relapse after that period is modest. Our aim is to get you to your goal and keep you there; that will require a 90-day commitment on your part.
I encourage you to read Part I in its entirety before jumping into Part II. Otherwise, you may not grasp the big picture of what works when, and you may inadvertently squander the power of the research. I’m not trying to hold you back; rather, I’m helping you get psyched up and make realistic plans before you jump into action. Decades of research and experience suggest that people who prepare properly and have genuine self-confidence will be far more successful at maintaining their goals after 90 days.
It’s common to have at least five or six things that you want to change about yourself. I’ll show you how to deal with multiple goals at once. Bear in mind that for different goals you may be in different steps. For example, you might be in the first step for improving your finances but already in the second for losing weight. Reading the pages of this book in order will improve your chances of success for all of your goals, no matter where you’re starting from today. Of course, I expect that you’ll return to various sections and the interactive website at different times depending on your particular needs.
Please pay attention to the Check Yourself exercises sprinkled throughout the book and take them seriously. They are not mere summaries; they are research-based, data-driven guides that will ensure your success. The Check Yourself appraisals serve as practical checkpoints along your journey through the 5 steps. They also give you the support you need to know exactly what you should be doing and when.
A final word about using this book effectively: Work the program enthusiastically. Don’t read it as an intellectual exercise or as a dreaded assignment. Bring passionate effort and confidence to the book; change is not a spectator sport. Complete the Check Yourself exercises honestly. Go online when prompted, and print materials that will enhance your success. Enlist the support of another person or two when encouraged to do so. Work the program for 90 days.
This is a personal and unique journey. You may feel daunted at first by what lies ahead or fearful that others will judge you. The work you do and the exercises you complete don’t need to be read by or shared with anyone else. It’s your experience that counts here. So feel free to record the truth and let your success flow from the results.
Warning: Avoid Using This Book Ineffectively
Near the top of my list of pet peeves are authors who fail—intentionally, it seems—to declare the limitations of their self-help resources. In fact, the more outrageous the claim, the greater the public interest. “Jesus Himself used this approach!” “Guaranteed results from this miracle method!” “My secret strategy will work for all problems!” Self-help materials that are not forthcoming about their limits are simply not honest.
So let me be up front about the boundaries of this book’s applicability and candid about its limits. Changeology will not help those who are in denial or unaware of their problems. This book assumes that you are aware of your goals and voluntarily pursuing them; it will not work if its methods are being imposed upon you. Remember, Changeology outlines a 90-day program; if you quit after a week, it will probably prove ineffective. The program is applicable to dozens and dozens of behavioral goals, resolutions, and transformations, but not disorders that lead to reality breaks or suicidal intentions.
I should reiterate that this book doesn’t need to be used in combination with any other treatment program; it’s not tied to or dependent on anything but your willingness to change. Changeology can be used with or without professional treatment, including medications, psychotherapy, support groups, and services targeted at specific goals such as weight loss.
People ask me all the time if changing long-established behaviors—such as smoking, drinking, and overeating—requires professional help. The science speaks for itself: thousands of people have successfully overcome their problematic behaviors on their own using the system outlined in this book. In fact, a whopping 90 percent of people who stop smoking and 90 percent of people who gain control of problem drinking do so without formal treatment. That said, I realize that for some, it might prove essential to incorporate additional help, but everyone will be different. My recommendation is that you try to work through this self-change program as it’s outlined and then consider professional treatment if necessary.
All of the people you’ll meet in this book, however, did not recruit help outside our program and my guidance. What’s more, they managed to transform their lives in serious ways, extricating themselves from problems that most of us would think demand professional treatment. Now, if you’re among those who choose to use the Changeology program while under the care of a professional, please ensure that he or she is aware that you are using it and that you are in agreement on the treatment plan. And, as is true of all self-help books, Changeology does not constitute my rendering professional services to you.
Put simply, Changeology advocates for the integration of multiple sources of healing. There’s no conflict between the program outlined here and the use of other therapies. More than anything, I want you to avoid the pernicious either-or thinking that we should have outgrown by the age of twelve. We can take advantage of any combination of these strategies to arrive at successful change. Use and blend as many of the methods as you feel necessary in your own journey through the steps.
To this end, I have provided two appendices to the book: Recommended Self-Help Resources and Selecting the Right Psychotherapist for You. Both are compilations derived from my studies on, respectively, identifying worthy self-help resources and choosing psychotherapists that fit the individual person. They are offered as appendices because not every reader wants them or will use them. But many of you will be interested in expanding your experience to incorporate additional self-help materials and professional healers.
I can’t think of a more appropriate time for this book. In the last decade alone we’ve witnessed soaring rates of chronic disease, which now outpaces infectious disease as a leading killer worldwide. Many chronic diseases, such as obesity and some cancers, have their roots in unhealthy behaviors. We are battling the lethality of lifestyles. At the same time, there’s a collective feeling that we’re deeply entrenched in depression, stress, and relationship dysfunction. Millions of people are struggling to end addictions and behavioral flaws that only exacerbate their health challenges.
The good news is that Changeology has rescued thousands of psychotherapy patients and research participants from a wide variety of behavioral problems that diminish their well-being. I know that it can accelerate your self-change as well, no matter what kind of goals you hope to realize today, tomorrow, and in the future.
Contrary to the negativity of conventional wisdom, millions of people have, in fact, changed their own lives for the better. They have creatively negotiated the confusing blizzard of information and misinformation. Through my research on their successes, I can now guide you more efficiently and effectively toward your behavioral goals, New Year’s (or anytime) resolutions, and life transformations.
Here’s what I want to scream from the rooftops: “There’s no need to rely anymore on folk myths and Grandma’s advice about improving your life. We now possess compelling scientific research that can guide your behavioral metamorphosis. Let science help you; let us show you the way!”
That’s precisely what I intend to do in this book. It’s time for you to become your own behavioral expert, your own changeologist. Now let’s get started!
Meet the Author
John C. Norcross, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical College, and a board-certified clinical psychologist in part time practice. He has authored more than 300 publications and edited or co-written twenty-two professional books.
Kristin Loberg has collaborated on a lengthy list of successful books, including three #1 New York Times bestsellers, most recently The End of Illness by David B. Agus, MD.
Jonathon Norcross graduated from St. Joseph’s University, where he studied English and film. He works in the TV and film industry in New York City.
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