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Contemplating Change

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Going through change is difficult. Changing ourselves, our behavior, is particularly so.

A lot of our performance in Magic (or writing, or athletics, or any other area of accomplishment) is about skill. It’s about learning the relevant information and using that information to understand and solve the problems that we are facing. It’s about having the answers to complex decisions—block or don’t block? Seventeen lands or eighteen? Use the removal or hold it?—at our fingertips.

Bloodfire Mentor
But much of our performance is based on things that no amount of strategy and information can change: missing land drops because we’re exhausted, letting our attention wander during easy matchups, not practicing enough. These are things we know we shouldn’t do (or should do and don’t) but that somehow keep holding us back.

I am a big fan of Sam Stoddard’s “Fearless Magical Inventory.” If you haven’t read that article, I strongly recommend you do so now—whether you’re highly competitive or still learning the deck archetypes, it’s helpful to see the kinds of weaknesses people still struggle to root out even at a pro level.

Take a few minutes now to take stock of your own performance. What do you do as a player that holds you back? Be honest with yourself; be thorough. Write it down. As any blue-aligned mage knows, you need to understand a system to change it.

That said, understanding is not all you need to create change. Of the things you’ve listed, I would guess that at least one has been a problem for quite a while. My personal challenge in recent months has been scooping too early, conceding when an improbable top-deck or opponent error could still possibly turn the game around. We know what we need to do (or not do), and we fully intend to do right this time. And then it just . . . doesn’t happen somehow.

Change is difficult. Fortunately, a lot of people have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it easier.

Stages of Change

In the early 1980s, psychology researchers Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska began exploring the problem of behavior change by looking at smokers. What distinguished people who successfully quit smoking from those who intended to but didn’t? They looked both at people who quit by themselves and at people who participated in structured programs (DiClemente and Prochaska qtd. in Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 98).

Meandering Towershell
What the researchers found was that change happened in stages. Although the stages were not always completed in a linear manner, and people often relapsed and cycled back before continuing forward, different strategies and processes were associated with each stage (Prochaska and DiClemente qtd. in Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 98). This led to a new and more patient mindset with regard to change, in contrast with traditional approaches that were often aimed only at people who were already ready to begin taking action (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 103).

It is important to be cautious when stretching theoretical models beyond the situations where they were originally established. We only have to look at what happened with the five stages of grief to see how easily they can be oversimplified and overgeneralized. In particular, I will be looking at research that was conducted on people dealing with addictive behavior.

That said, while they were originally created to address smoking addiction, the stages have been largely consistent across many areas of health and other behavior, such as exercise, bullying, and HIV prevention (summarized in Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 98). It can also be used by mental health professionals to address personal change as a whole (Petrocelli 26).

Most relevant to our discussion, one study has suggested that the theory is applicable to athletes and willingness to use sports psychology resources (Leffingwell, Rider, & Williams 168). While there will be individual differences in how relevant and helpful the theory is, and individual guidance is always best, looking at the theory can provide us with valuable insights with regard to becoming unstuck.

The Contemplation Stage

The first stage of change is actually the precontemplation stage, in which we have no plans to take action in the next six months. People in this stage often deny that there’s a problem, and they may try to avoid information about the consequences of their actions (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100).

Quiet Contemplation
Given that you are reading this article, I assume that you are looking to change something, and we can skip over discussing this stage. If you haven’t chosen something specific from your Fearless Magical Inventory, do that now.

The next stage is the contemplation stage, defined by the intention to take action in the next six months. However, when we are in this stage, we haven’t actually started taking steps toward our goal. The contemplation stage is often marked by intense ambivalence, an awareness of the benefits of changing but also the negatives (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100).

When looking at change, an important thing to realize is that we do everything for a reason. They’re not always admirable reasons, and they don’t always hold up under scrutiny—skipping an opportunity to test your deck because you’d rather watch TV, “Who cares if my play is careless, it’s just Friday Night Magic”—but we wouldn’t do things if we didn’t benefit from them somehow.

When I examined the thought process behind conceding prematurely, it became clear that I hate ambiguity and frustration. I don’t like the feeling of being on the brink of losing. Of course, in the moment, I was always able to come up with rationalizations. I wanted more time for Game 3. I didn’t want her to see what’s in my deck. But really, it’s not as though I was doing a meaningful cost–benefit analysis there. I just wanted to get away from the tension.

Lens of Clarity
To avoid being sabotaged by these hidden arguments against changing, it’s important to look at them clearly. They are affecting your behavior. Would changing make you feel a way you don’t like? Are there people in your life who would disapprove of the change? Would you have to give up something you enjoy? Write them down.

If you’ve read this far, you have something that you want to change, and you presumably have a reason you want to change it. Ideally, you have many reasons. For most bad-play habits, as with my premature concessions, there is an easy answer: We’re throwing away games. Our records are worse than they otherwise would have been.

If you’re a casual player, that’s fine. I’d do better if I read strategy articles, but I like what I currently do with my free time, and the necessary tradeoff would be far too high. If you want to be competitive, though, your bad habit (or lack of good habits) is holding you back.

Again, you probably knew this. That’s why you want to change. You may not think about it often, but you knew it, and it apparently was not everything you needed to create change. So what do you need?

Self-Reevaluation

Brave the Sands
In a study of how people progressed through the stages when dealing with addiction, one of the processes most associated with moving out of the contemplation stage was self-reevaluation (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross 1109). This involves assessing the pros and cons, not just on a practical level, but as a fundamental part of who we are (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 101). What does your current behavior say about you? Is that who you want to be?

Going back to my problem of conceding early—was I someone who gave up easily? Who shied away from difficult experiences? Well, if I was being totally honest, I was sometimes. While I would push hard to achieve my goals, some people thrive on challenge for its own sake. I did not.

And then, we have the incredibly important second question: Who did I want to be? I wanted to be someone braver, someone more patient, someone who experienced challenges as a net positive. Sticking out the games I was losing would provide valuable practice in dealing with frustration and uncertainty.

Changing my behavior would improve my gameplay—yes, maybe I’d have a few more packs at the end of the day. It was nothing I’d be too excited about. The rewards of improving myself as a person, on the other hand, had a reasonable chance of outweighing the costs.

When attempting to help people with self-reevaluation, there are a number of strategies that can be used. These tend to focus on the positives of the aspirational self-image rather than the negatives of the present state.

One strategy is imagery: picturing how we would feel about ourselves once we made the change (“The Transtheoretical Model”). Imagining you’ve managed to make the change, despite the barriers, and kept it up for some time. How would your self-image be different? (“The Transtheoretical Model”)

Ainok Bond-Kin
Another is values clarification, coming to a clear understanding of what we value and find meaningful, in contrast with impulsive decision-making or the thoughtless imitation of others’ priorities (“The Transtheoretical Model”; Shapiro et al. 380).

What values do you hold to strongly, in that they are personally meaningful to you rather than something you “should” do? Do your current actions reflect them? Tightening up your game or getting in the necessary practice might reflect values such as commitment to your team, personal discipline, or conscientiousness and precision. By pursuing your goal, what value could you be enacting?

And finally, role models can be helpful (“The Transtheoretical Model”). Find people who already demonstrate the behavior that you want to adopt. Who do you know who is diligent in the area you are struggling with? How does that person do it, and why?

Understanding the practical benefits of change is important. Other processes include understanding the costs of not changing and the way we affect ourselves and others. And self-reevaluation, as I described, may elevate simple behavior change to an act of personal transformation.

The Next Steps

After moving out of the contemplation stage, we begin preparing for change by gathering information and taking tentative first steps. This, aptly, is called the preparation stage, and it is the last stop before we actually carry out the change in the action stage. We eventually move to the maintenance stage, where it is beginning to become habit. If we’re lucky, the termination stage brings complete effortlessness (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 101).

These all have their own associated experiences and relevant processes. For those interested in learning more, one of the original researchers has created a fairly accessible site and series of programs based on his work. (I have no personal investment in the author or his products; I just find his theory to be valuable.)

In the future, I would like to cover the challenges and strategies associated with the later stages. But for now, I hope this can be helpful in being patient with yourself, recognizing that change is a process, and taking the first step closer to your goal.

Works Cited

  • Leffingwell, Thad R., Steven P. Rider, and Jean M. Williams. "Application of the Transtheoretical Model to Psychological Skills Training." Sport Psychologist 15.2 (2001): 168–187. Web.
  • Petrocelli, John V. "Processes and Stages of Change: Counseling with the Transtheoretical Model of Change." Journal of Counseling & Development 80.1 (2002): 22–30. Web.
  • Prochaska, James O., Carlo C. DiClemente, and John C. Norcross. "In Search of How People Change: Applications to Addictive Behaviors." American psychologist 47.9 (1992): 1102. Web.
  • Prochaska, James O., Colleen A. Redding, and Kerry E. Evers. "The Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change." Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice. 4th ed. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. 97–121. Web.
  • Shapiro, Shauna L., et al. "Mechanisms of Mindfulness." Journal of clinical psychology 62.3 (2006): 373–386. Web.
  • Stoddard, Sam. "Creating a Fearless Magical Inventory." StarCityGames.com. StarCityGames.com, 4 Dec. 2007. Web. 23 Sept. 2014. .
  • "The Transtheoretical Model." Pro-Change Behavior Systems - Evidence-Based Health and Behavior Apps. Pro-Change Behavior Systems, Inc., 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. .


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