The Upward Spiral of Successful Personal Change

February 6, 2013

A downward spiral is a pattern of self-destruction that is repeated over time until we reach a BAD PLACE. Downward spirals are not deliberate choices and actions designed to reach that BAD PLACE. After all, no one really commits to a gradual journey of succumbing to temptation and implementing behavior designed to take them to that place, do they?

But you can end up in that BAD PLACE, and once you are there, you may wonder how you got there. If you’ve been self-aware enough to understand that you have been doing things all along that could lead you to that BAD PLACE, you may ask yourself why you allowed yourself to do those things and why you didn’t take action to change before you arrived.

Perhaps you tried to change, but it didn’t stick. How often do people quit smoking only to resume it later? Or go on that crash diet only to re-gain the weight again? How many of those gym memberships that people signed up for in the New Year are destined to go idle any day now?

There is a path to success! John Norcross and Kristin Loberg developed a series of steps to guide successful change that they call the 5 Ps. There are “5 Ps” out there for a lot of things (marketing, strategy, success, etc.) but the 5 Ps that I’m talking about in this post come from the book, Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions by Norcross and Loberg. The 5 Ps are a progression of 5 steps related to personal change:


You start by getting Psyched, then prepare by making a Plan before you leap into the action by entering into the Perspire step, and finally you maintain in two phases: first by Persevering through those inevitable slips that you will make on your way to full change where you are equipped to successfully maintain change, or Persist.

A key finding that Norcross and Loberg discovered after more than 30 years of research on how people successfully changed behavior is that it is extremely rare that people move linearly through the steps. The vast majority of people repeat the model three to six times before they are able to move into Persist mode for good.

This doesn’t mean that people slip all the way back to the beginning each time, having to start the cycle all over again. Successful self-changers make progress little by little, occasionally slipping back – but not all the way. They cycle through the process, gaining ground and learning from their inevitable slips. The actual path becomes an upward spiral that looks something like this:

As this model shows, there will be backward slides. But the goal is to iterate, or cycle, on a journey upwards towards a greater understanding and ultimately getting you to a better place. The difference with an upward spiral as opposed to a downward spiral is that with an upward spiral, we need to be mindful of what we really want to change and to measure our progress towards that desired end state.

Next post, I’ll cover this model in more detail as it relates to being agile.


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