HandsMaking a change in your life is a difficult task, whether it’s losing those last few pounds or stopping the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. But when it’s a loved one in need of a change, how can you help without shutting them down?

First, you must assess their level of readiness. The Five Stages of Change model explains the process people go though when making decisions:

  • Pre-Contemplation– Not recognizing the issue as an “issue”
  • Contemplation– Just starting to realize there could be a problem
  • Preparation– Thinking through the change and how to accomplish it
  • Action– Purposefully making a change
  • Maintenance– Working to make the change life-long

Be mindful of where your loved one is in the process. Forcing someone to change when they are not ready can backfire, causing them to shut down and make no improvements at all.

Consider a student who has been suspended from college for drinking alcohol. He believes the school is simply overacting and doesn’t take his punishment seriously. This student is still in the pre-contemplation stage. He is not ready to make a change, despite punishment and his family’s disappointment.

Now consider a student who has just been released from rehabilitation. He feels grateful to be alive. This student is ready to make a life-long decision. He has worked though all the stages of change and wants to maintain this new lifestyle.

This does not mean we write off the first student. We simply take a different approach. You shouldn’t expect him to stop hanging with his buddies or quit alcohol cold-turkey. This change is too drastic for someone early in the change spectrum.

Instead, take a motivational approach. Why does he drink so heavily? What benefits does he get from drinking? Once you determine the why, then you can help them figure out how to make reasonable changes that work for them.

Remember, you can’t force a person to change. A person must be ready and willing before they can take action. You have to meet them where they are. But with compassion, patience and understanding, you can help them take that first step in the right direction.