There is a road near my home that is a main artery of our town and I find myself on it several times a day. It is currently in a state of upheaval. In preparation for a major boulevard, a new traffic pattern was created, wreaking havoc for a quarter mile or so. The stretch of roadwork begins with large, flashing caution signs. Small, rubber orange cones direct drivers to stay in the new lanes and a long line of orange and white striped barrels serve as a barricade for the road crew. Drivers unfamiliar with the work drive slowly; flagman and trucks interrupt the flow of cars. In short, it is an annoying disruption and each time I drive down this street I can’t help but think of it as a metaphor for personal behavior change.
Change is disruptive, inconvenient and oftentimes, messy. Most times, change requires some sort of upheaval as we let go of a habit and attempt to replace it with something else. Even when we have a clear idea of what we want our life to be like, the process of change takes time and effort.
As helping professionals, we sometimes forget that change takes time and is often complex. As we try to help our clients navigate the road of change, we may assume the role of roadside flagmen, frantically waving our clients in the direction we choose. Or we may find ourselves on the road crew trying to clear the road ahead of potholes and obstructions. Or perhaps we may be tempted to “grab the wheel” and take over the situation all together. Unfortunately, however well-intended these approaches, they don’t lead to lasting behavior change.
So, how do we help guide our clients through change?
We accept that each person’s journey is unique to them. We partner with our clients, riding shotgun as they drive the car. Together we explore where they would like to go. As we sit beside them, we help navigate the road ahead and help them stay on their chosen course of action. We’re with them if they detour and we help them steer their way back on track.
Behavior change takes time and it is a disturbance of the status quo, but by working together with our clients, we can make it through the upheaval and help them achieve their personal aims to reach their destination.