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Change in Action

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Last month, I introduced the concept of the stages of change. This theory was originally developed with regard to health behaviors such as smoking (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 98). It proposes that changing a behavior involves passing through a series of stages that encompass not only the overt behavior change itself, but also other processes that lead up to or support the change (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100).

If you haven’t read last month’s article yet, I recommend you go back and do that since it lays some important groundwork for what we will be discussing today. Prochaska’s stages of change and the relevant processes have been adapted in the past for a variety of things, including sedentary lifestyles and bullying (summarized in Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 98), and I am exploring how they might theoretically be adapted for starting or stopping behaviors that impact our performance at tournaments.

Master the Way

My last article took us through the contemplation stage, when we want to change but are not yet sure we want to make the commitment (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100). I talked about the way self-reevaluation provides the extra impetus to make the change—and about my own efforts to finish games without conceding prematurely.

I had you choose a play habit that you wanted to start or stop but weren’t quite ready to commit to. If you read the article last month, by now, you may have moved out of the contemplation stage with regard to your goal. A month isn’t a long time when it comes to change processes—when considering action, people in the contemplation stage are still looking up to six months out—so you may still be working on it.

For this article, whether you started reading last month or are just now joining us, you want to choose something that you are already serious about. You don’t have to have started or know exactly what strategies you will use to follow through—that is what we’ll be talking about—but it should be one regarding which you’ve already looked into some possibilities. Once you’ve chosen a play–competition behavior you want to change, we can look at the upcoming stages and the relevant processes.

The Preparation Stage

In the contemplation stage, as I previously mentioned, we are more focused on whether and why to change than how. We are keenly aware of the pros and cons (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100). Self-reevaluation, with which we examine how the change would affect our sense of self, can help move out of endless contemplation (“The Transtheoretical Model”).

The next stage is the preparation stage, in which you start to see concrete movement toward action. This phase is identified by an intent to change soon, usually within a month (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100) and is often marked by steps that support the goal—buying a book, consulting an expert (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100), generally beginning to develop a plan for change.

There seems to be some ambiguity in the research about which processes are associated with this stage and which come later (e.g. Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 105, “The Transtheoretical Model”; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1109). This is possibly due to a genuine lack of consistency across situations (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 101) or due to a difference in conceptualization. Because of this ambiguity, I will start with the skills that appear to often be learned in the preparation stage and carried on through the rest.

The Behavioral Skills

Many of the change processes are strongly rooted in behaviorism. I could write an entire article or even series on that topic alone—I was a behavior interventionist for three years—but the processes more or less revolve around the ABCs of behaviorism—Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (Pratt & Dubie).

A for Antecedent

Antecedent is a way of referring to whatever comes right before you do or would do a behavior (Pratt & Dubie)—in this case, your play habit. With smoking, it might be when someone is stressed, when he or she sees someone else with a cigarette, or at the end of the workday.

We may not always be aware of our antecedents, but we can usually find them when we look. In his Fearless Magical Inventory, Stoddard does a great job demonstrating this: “When my opponent is getting ahead . . . ” “ . . . When I get tired of playing around it,” “I am overly confident when . . . ” (Stoddard). Behaviors are triggered just like abilities—when, whenever, at.

Sage of the Inward Eye

Identify yours. If you can pick out situations that are avoidable—such as if you tilt when you didn’t have enough sleep—going up the chain to eliminate the antecedent may work out better than trying to rely on willpower when it happens. In addition, you can create new antecedents for positive behaviors, such as having a friend remind you that you need to playtest this weekend. If you want to read more on the topic, these strategies are referred to as stimulus control (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 102), although it may be easier in practice to just remember the ABCs.

For my goal, to quit conceding in frustration when I still had a chance to win a game, the antecedent was pretty clearly frustration and uncertainty. In my experience, a fairly significant proportion of bad habits represent an effort to avoid uncomfortable feelings or experiences. We’re not likely to ever totally escape those, short of giving up Magic completely. So we have to find a new approach.

B for Behavior

This moves us from A for Antecedent to B for Behavior. I clearly did not know how to deal with stress more productively. I needed to learn a new strategy for responding to the antecedent, new stress-management skills. Learning and using a healthier response to a situation is called counterconditioning.

If you tend to tilt at an opponent, you could plan to excuse yourself quickly after games. If you get yourself into mana trouble by tapping your lands carelessly, you could make a point of pausing to breathe before casting each spell. Effective strategies are highly individual to each person and each situation, so it is best for you to begin writing down ideas that are specific to yours. If nothing comes to mind, consider who or what resource might be able to offer suggestions.

Abzan Guide

Here’s one important caveat: Trying to break a habit sometimes reveals that it was covering for a condition, such as depression or anxiety—in such a case, the best resource would be a mental health professional. Since I have an anxiety disorder, it’s always important to figure out whether a change is something I can manage with informal resources or whether I should also have the expert help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based in behaviorism, and it often includes a more intensive approach to exactly the sorts of strategies we are discussing.

C for Consequence

After B for Behavior comes C for Consequence. Of course, to a certain extent, a good habit is its own reward. But in the early stages, and on off days, that can become a bit weak in the face of immediate pressures. The bad habit is naturally rewarding or we wouldn’t do it. Making the new one desirable takes effort.

Incremental Growth

The Pro-Change website encourages positive self-talk, internally acknowledging and praising each incident of success (Pro-Change). Some people like to make charts so they can have the satisfaction of watching their progress. You have my permission to use stickers. And charting also helps us keep track of milestones, which the site suggests as an opportunity for people to treat themselves (Pro-Change). Adding in these positive consequences is called reinforcement management.

And then, of course, positive social consequences are often available. Making use of the helping relationships process (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 102) can include committing with team members to encourage each other’s goals, giving updates on your progress to a mentor who knows you’re working hard, or asking a friend to remind you of your desire to change.

Putting It into Action

The concept of helping relationships brings us into self-liberation. This is the process associated with moving out of the preparation stage and into the action stage, wherein change is actually completed. This stage is defined by beginning to follow through consistently on the desired changes (Prochaska, Redding & Evers 100).

The self-reevaluation process, which I covered in my previous article, focuses on why you want to change. But it doesn’t give a reason to change right now. Self-liberation is about concluding that you are ready to make the change, possibly thanks to the new strategies you’ve been learning, and then committing to doing so (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 101).

Roar of Challenge

Some people make these commitments very publicly. Our own Adrienne Reynolds did this with her Pseudo Newb blog, tracking her progress and keeping herself honest. I try to cultivate friendships with people who are committed to improving on similar dimensions, and we hold each other accountable—sharing my intent to change with these people is often a good sign that I’m ready.

And organizations for this can be great as well. During pre-tournament judge meetings, judges often announce their goals for the day and ask others to give feedback. Adrienne Reynolds has long advocated for noncompetitive, self-improvement-based coaching programs in Magic. If you’re ready to move into the next step, who should witness your commitment? Whose presence would provide the push you need?

Keeping It Up

Once you’ve started taking action, you will use your new skills and resources to keep it up. People often cycle back through previous stages, but research on smoking suggests that failed attempts can provide valuable preparation for the next attempt (DiClemente et al. 301). After six months, you are considered to be in the maintenance stage, wherein you are still resisting relapse, but the habit is becoming ingrained and does not take as much conscious use of processes (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 100).

Some people, for some changes, are fortunate to reach the termination stage. This means they will easily continue the change no matter what happens. It is as though it were always a part of them. Others continue to use their helping relationships and behavioral processes, the Antecedent–Behavior–Consequence strategies, throughout their lives (Prochaska, Redding, & Evers 101). Change may always be challenging, but with the right skills, it can be understood and mastered.

Works Cited

  • DiClemente, Carlo C., et al. "The Process of Smoking Cessation: An Analysis of Precontemplation, Contemplation, and Preparation Stages of Change." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 59.2 (1991): 295–304. Web.
  • Pratt, Cathy, and Melissa Dubie. "Observing Behavior Using A-B-C Data." Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Indiana University Bloomington. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  • 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.
  • 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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