Some thoughts on change

The other weekend I was hiking with a close friend and her friend, with whom I got into a conversation about swimming in Porteau Cove (Xwawchayay in the language of the Squamish Nation). Porteau Cove is a scenic fjord nestled between the mountains of British Columbia. Now, if you’ve been anywhere on the pacific northwest, you know its waters are beautiful, but the temperature betrays their tropical luminescence—it’s COLD. No matter what anyone ever told me about how “warm” cold water is—it’s COLD.  

A drawing by me of Porteau Cove at sunset

When I told her I swam in the water daily the past week, she responded with, “I could never swim in cold water.” I responded, “Me neither. It took me two years of just thinking about it. And about 3 or 4 years to convince myself it was worth trying.” This year I decided wanted to be more comfortable with cold plunges. I wanted this for no other reason than it seemed a bit ridiculous to hike up to the shore of a serene lake in scorching hot weather to stand there for 30 minutes, get psychologically ready to dive in, only to turn around and decide not to.  

Psychological blocks are real. You imagine doing the thing, you know it’s a good idea, you know you feel great after, you know how to do it, and yet, in your moment of glory you completely freeze up. No matter how many times I “know” better about what I want and what the right thing to do is, sometimes I get stuck making that first step forward anyway.  

The transtheoretical model of change breaks down change into seven distinct stages. It goes something like this: at pre-contemplation you don’t even think about changing, at contemplation you think about changing, at preparation you prepare to change, at action you do the thing, and at maintenance you continue new behaviours, at termination the change is no longer a change but an integrated part of your life or sometimes relapse when you go back to old habits and behaviors.  

Of course, the stages are not always linear and perfectly broken down as this. But what I like about this model is that it shows change on a spectrum; it shows that it is not that you “did” or “didn’t” do but includes all measures of psychological readiness that come even before the action itself. It leaves space for ambivalence—not being sure, not being completely certain and secure and confident about a decision.  

Ambivalence creates flexibility. When I stand in front of that perfectly safe and beautiful and clear lake, I tell myself Good, I got this far today, instead of my usual self-critical banter: Well, you got this far and didn’t even jump in, what a waste of an opportunity. Maybe I didn’t jump, but I got this far and that matters.  

The other thought I was having about all this, is how it can be easier to be motivated to do something when you do it with other people. Alone, it’s just me and myself and I. I’m a good arguer so I can always convince myself out of doing something I secretly want to do. But when I’m there with a friend, and I see her run past me into the water without a second thought, I can’t help being moved by her momentum, her joy. My desire to swim alongside her overtakes my desire to stand alone on the beach. I feel inspired by her when she runs splashing into the cool water, laughing on her way. Okay, maybe not always inspired to jump into cold water, but sometimes.

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