Things you need to know about the book "Changeology" by John C. Norcross

Is there a scientific formula you can follow to change your life? Change is hard. But not if you know the 5-step formula that works whether you’re trying to stop smoking or start recycling. Dr. John C. Norcross, an internationally recognized expert, has studied how people make transformative, permanent changes in their lives. Over the past 30 years, he and his research team have helped thousands of people overcome dozens of behavioral ailments. Now his cutting-edge, scientific approach to personal improvement is being made available in this indispensable guide.

Changeology encompasses the entire change process, and you will be guided through all five steps of a proven system that you can use to change on your own or customize to your own life. Unlike 95 percent of self-help books, the Changeology plan has a documented track record of success. Whether you want to quit overeating or drinking or end depression, debt and relationship distress, Dr. Norcross gives you the tools you need to change what you want within 90 days.

Whatever your goal or resolution, you can use Changeology to achieve a life filled with better health and greater happiness.

In this book, you will learn:

  • How to define your goals and get started in a new direction.
  • How to pump up your motivation and prepare for self-change.
  • How to prevent relapses into old patterns.
  • How to master the skills that will help you sustain change.
  • How Changeology differs from other self-help methods. 

Here are some highlights from the book:

Whether you’re hoping to stop smoking or gambling, commit to exercising more, eliminate fast food and bike to work, or learn a new skill that will earn you a promotion, Changeology is a scientific program that can dramatically increase your chance of success. 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 the instructions with the help of an interactive website (

Behavioral research indicates that it takes 90 days to prepare for change, build a new behavior, become competent 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 the 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 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. It’s time for you to become your own behavioral expert, your own changeologist. 

How Self-Changers Succeed: The Science

We have a love-hate relationship with the idea of changing our behavior. Change is desired and dreaded, venerated and vilified. No wonder we are so confused about it. What sort of changes do we crave (and simultaneously resist)? Four clusters characterize the vast majority of people’s ambitions:

• Bad habits. Specific actions that become stitched into daily life. Examples include excessive consumption of tobacco, food, alcohol and even money. These are behavioral excesses — too much of a good thing.

• New goals. You may desire to acquire or improve upon your skills, be it learning to run long distance, assert yourself or play the guitar. These are behavioral improvements — too little of what you seek.

• Relationships. You may be trying to enhance a romantic partnership, deepen your friendships, reverse troubles with your in-laws or maintain better relations with your co-workers.

• Life satisfaction. You make statements such as “I want to be a better person” or “I hope to deepen my spirituality.” Or you set slightly more detailed goals such as wanting to be more generous, kinder and less selfish.

The process of change is amazingly similar across diverse goals and problems. People progress through the identical stages –– what I will call the 5 steps –– for each of the 50-plus problems now researched. And they use the same fundamental strategies to speed their progress through those stages. The particular goals are different, but the journey to the goal is the same. Let’s take a look at each of the main stages of change so you can understand how we’ll turn these into the five steps:

• Contemplation. This is the stage in which people are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. They are mulling it over, weighing the pros and cons. People can remain stuck in the contemplation stage for long periods.

• Preparation. Good intentions and small movements. Individuals are intending to take action in the next month and are taking “baby steps” toward change.

• Action. Individuals modify their behavior and environment in order to overcome their problems and reach their new goals. Action requires a considerable commitment of time and energy. You are in this stage if you have successfully changed in behavior for one day up to a couple of months.

• Maintenance. People work to prevent a relapse to their old ways and consolidate the gains attained during action. Stabilizing behavior change and avoiding relapse are the hallmarks of maintenance.

The 5 Steps

Each stage reflects not only a period of time but also a set of tasks that must be completed if you are to move to the next stage, the next step. Change, like any meaningful endeavor, proceeds sequentially through steps. The journey begins with the contemplation stage of specifying realistic goals, getting ready or getting psyched. The planning stage is all about prepping. How exactly will I do this thing? At some point you will jump from preparing and planning to perspiring, the work of implementing the new, desired behavior. Getting there is wonderful, but we need to keep you there, which entails persevering through slips and, finally, persisting over time.

To simplify the path, we’ll refer to the 5 steps as:

  • Psych: Get ready/contemplation
  • Prep: Plan before leaping/preparation
  • Perspire: Take action/action
  • Persevere: Manage slips/maintenance
  • Persist: Maintain change/maintenance

The 5 steps determine who successfully changes and who does not — regardless of other factors involved,including a strong desire to change. People can get derailed at any step. Some never get psyched enough to move to the next step; some get psyched but don’t prepare; others prepare but don’t execute; and still others burn out before they can persevere and persist.

Focus on goals where you’re farther along in the 5 steps. Make any goals that seriously affect your health and wellness a priority. Concentrate on those goals for which you have the most energy and desire to change today 

Step 1: Psych: Getting Ready

Weeks 1 and 2: Outline your goal and define the new you. Start counting and measuring the behavior you will modify. Think about the consequences of your problem and imagine a new life without it. Harness the awareness and emotions that will propel you into action. One of the colossal mistakes people make when trying to change is overestimating the value of motivation while underestimating learnable skills. Here you’ll learn how to acquire both commitment and skills. You need to choose and define your goals in a way that will enhance your probability of success. Here are five proven methods:

• It’s all about you. Select a behavior you genuinely want to change. This needs to be about you. Make sure you’re doing this for no one other than yourself.

It should be measurable. We refer to this as operationalizing a goal in a way that you can measure by counting or graphing. Tracking your progress increases your progress.

• It has to be real. A guaranteed recipe for failure is to select an unrealistic, unattainable goal. Distinguish between realistic, short-term goals and long-term fantasies. Ensure that your general goal is real.

• It has to be under your control. You don’t have the power to bring about world peace and end global warming. You can control many of your own behaviors that are under your thumb.

• It should be positive. Goals expressed positively typically prove more successful than goals expressed negatively. Even if you want to terminate a problem, specify your goal as a healthy alternative behavior. Psychologically, it’s easier to build in a new behavior than to root out a problematic one. 

Step 2: Prep: Planning Before Leaping

Weeks 2 and 3: Build your commitment and then make your goal public. Pick your start day and identify people who will support you. Take a few small initial steps — and prepare for liftoff! This step describes what you need to do before jumping completely into action. Most people get so antsy and eager that they jump before they are prepared. They sabotage themselves by a lack of preparation and planning. 

Step 3: Perspire: Taking Action

Weeks 2 to 8: Walk the talk — take action! Develop healthy alternatives to the problem, and build new behaviors. Reward yourself for a job well done. Cultivate your environment and support team to keep moving forward. Step 3 is all about the fury of action, and it takes place at least two weeks — and perhaps up to 30 days — into the 90 days of change. In this step, we’re aiming to act, to stay forward, to lean into the winds of change. Successful action requires four catalyzing strategies: rewarding, countering, controlling your environment and helping relationships. 

Step 4: Persevere: Managing Slips

Weeks 8 to 12: Learn to say no and develop a plan for getting back on track after a slip. Avoid high-risk triggers, resist the urge and keep a positive outlook. Slips need not become falls.As you work to realize your goals and resolutions, expect to slip — probably multiple times. If you understand and prepare for mistakes, however, they don’t need to ruin your self-change effort. To persevere means to continue toward a goal in spite of discouragement or opposition. For our purposes, to persevere is to continue toward your goal despite your urges to stop, cravings to regress and slips on the road to success. To persevere the strategies entail:

• Avoiding high-risk triggers. A slip is typically preceded by a trigger, a high-risk situation that increases the chance that you’ll return to your old ways. Triggers can be practically anything that has historically been associated with the problem. Identify your triggers. Ask yourself where, what, when and who.

• Practicing saying no. Practice in advance for probable high-risk situations. Envision yourself in a scenario where temptations reign supreme. Begin in your imagination by saying no confidently and immediately. “No thanks, I don’t want to bicker.” “No, I’m quitting.” Then practice with a member of your change team before saying it in a real situation.

• Resisting the initial urge. Smokers will crave a puff, over-spenders will feel the need to buy, over-eaters will plead for just a bite.

• Responding constructively after a slip. It helps to understand relapse as a process, a systematic chain of psychological events. How you respond to the slip — not the slip itself — determines which choice you will make.

• Preparing for the next time you slip. You’ll want a plan that incorporates lessons learned and prepares you better. Identify what you were thinking, what you were doing, what you were feeling and whom you were with when you slipped. Turn those triggers around and do the healthy opposites. Achieving your goal, resolution or transformation in 90 days is a big project. It requires more than one person. Now is the time to further mobilize the change team you created during the Prep step. Research shows that the amount of help you receive from important people in your life predicts success a month into action. In the long run, support becomes crucial. 

Step 5: Persist: Maintaining Change

Week 12 and beyond: Keep using the strategies that maintain the new you. Have backup plans for those inevitable slips. Remind yourself that you can do this! Sustain self-change over the long haul. The previous step, Persevere, was about overcoming obstacles and lapses; this step, Persist, is about maintaining change over time. You need to master both in order to permanently establish your new behavior. Persistence requires the mastery of a series of skills and a fundamental shift in thinking; lasting change is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. And the challenge is to persist for not just 90 days but for a lifetime.

• Maintaining new behavior. Maintenance is more than preventing relapse. When you think of persisting with your change, think of it as moving forward, as continually improving, as giving yourself an ongoing gift. The cornerstone of persistence is that it doesn’t feel like dreary work anymore, it feels like healthy fun.

• Boosting your self-efficacy permanently: Think of self-efficacy as a house, one that can be built by hard work and success or destroyed by the lack of same. Success begets more success; success also begets more self-efficacy, which enables you to persist for 90 days and beyond.

• Understanding the spiral of change: As you’ve learned, relapse is the rule rather than the exception. The vast majority of people will follow the model three to six times before they reach the promised land of Persist for good. Self-changers typically cycle through the steps several times. The spiral demonstrates that people do not revolve endlessly in circles, nor do they progress all the way back to where they began. The route to behavior change is not a straight, linear line; it’s a spiral path upward.

• Distinguish between self-changes that end and those that require a lifetime of perseverance. Do self-changers terminate the problem, reach their goals and exit the path? You can terminate the problem and exit the spiral if three conditions are met during Persist: your temptation to regress or relapse across triggers is very low, your self-efficacy to maintain is high across situations, and you have established a healthy lifestyle that precludes the old problem behavior. There is a tight link between celebrating your growth and perpetuating that growth. Whoop it up, feel rightfully proud, spread the cheer and encouragement. You can pay it forward to others and yourself.  

The Adaptation of Changeology

If there is one overarching theme here, it’s that we can change. We can adapt to life even when we’re not 100 percent confident in that change from the get-go. Self-change is possible, prevalent and learnable! Even for involuntary and societal transformations not of our
own making. I wholeheartedly believe that the changes we seek and societal levels must start with each one of us.

Confucius said, “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” My ardent hope is that I have given you plenty of direction and skills to begin to make a tremendous difference in your life.

Be the change you wish to see in the world — and bring that self-change into the world. 

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