When The Student Is Ready, the Teacher Appears

By Julia M. Rahn, Ph.D.

Do you know Sam? Sam is a successful business executive who currently is working on at least 10 different projects at any given time. For most of his career, his office has been a complete mess and colleagues always shake their heads in disbelief when they leave his office and wonder how he can work this way. Sam has to work late hours to get everything accomplished, due to the fact that projects take him 50% longer to complete as he needs a significant amount of “finding paper time” to simply begin and work on a project. He is always tired from working long hours, gets complaints from his family about not being home enough and knows he is not working at his optimal capacity. After failing to complete a large contract, Sam decided he needed to change.

He first began thinking about changing and then took steps to make this change a reality. At a recent networking event, which he almost avoided out of fear he should be working on a major project instead, he was introduced to a professional organizer who seemed to really understand the executive needs and struggles he has due to working at a fast paced and lucrative business. Upon making an appointment for the following week, Sam marveled to himself about the synchronistic meeting he had with this organizing professional. He was ready, and a teacher appeared.

Stories like this happen all of the time and highlight the power behind the old adage; When The Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears. When someone is truly ready to reach a goal, the path to the goal becomes clear, necessary support and instruction is available, and the likelihood of reaching the goal is nearly 100%. Readiness is a mindset that everyone can achieve to successfully reach goals and maintain the benefits associated with reaching any aspiration.

However, while the necessity of switching to this mindset to reach a goal is an easy concept to grasp, it is often not simple to obtain. Dr. James Prochaska is a well-known psychologist, researcher and co-developer of the Transtheoretical Model which depicts the stages of change we all go through to help individuals ready themselves to make the changes necessary for goal achievement. The stages of change model depict five active stages of change and one knows they are truly ready for change when they reach the action stage. At this stage, motivation for change is high, barriers to change are low, and the benefits of change are clearly seen.

Furthermore, “teachers “appear seemingly out of nowhere to provide support and direction to reach our goals. However to reach the action stages, there are three stages of change that must first be traversed.

The first stage is called the Precontemplation Stage and this is where individuals are not even thinking about changing. Sam was in this first stage of change when he was continually shuffling papers from one pile to another. Months prior to being ready to change, he felt his methods of keeping track of his work were working despite all of his colleagues feeling he was an organizational mess noting that his work suffered because of this disorganization. Furthermore, despite individuals were pointing out the consequences to him having an extremely cluttered desk, Sam was oblivious to the need for him to change. At this stage, having a teacher appear is not even a possibility, as Sam was not yet ready for a teacher.

Luckily for Sam, a major contract was lost due to him losing an important document buried in papers on his desk. Thus, Sam began thinking about how disorganized he truly was and the negative effects this disorganization was having on his life. He also began thinking about what his life would be like once his work life was more organized, and it was then he started brainstorming possible solutions to help get his office organized. At this point, Sam is in the second stage of change, the Contemplation Stage, where he is thinking about changing but hasn’t taken any real steps towards making any change. Again, the teacher isn’t anywhere close to materializing at this point, but Sam is getting closer to being ready for one to appear.   

Sam enters the Preparation Stage, the third stage of change, when he begins to take his first steps towards really becoming more organized. He begins to research solutions on the Internet, asks colleagues about what works for them, and buys both a shredder and a filing cabinet. He even starts visualizing what his life will be like once he is fully organized. Sam visualizes getting more work done, feeling more respect from his colleagues, and having more energy for after work activities with his family now that he has alleviated the stress associated with his disorganization. At this point it is possible that Sam may have met his “teacher” but the connection won’t be fully made until the next stage.

These first three stages are what we all go through when making a change. Some go through these stages quickly, while others cycle between the contemplation (thinking) and preparation (preparing) stages over and over until they are ready for action. During the Action Stage of change, the fourth stage, behavior can truly be modified and teachers appear. Once you are willing to take action, you are ready for true change. Sam began meeting with the professional organizer three hours a week to organize the papers on his desk and develop a procedure to stay organized. He even tackled smaller organizational projects between meetings with the organizer. As each week went by Sam felt better and better. He enjoyed walking into his office each day, he could find everything with ease, and his productivity and respect from his colleagues vastly increased.

The fifth and final stage of change is the Maintenance Stage. When individuals have maintained a change of behavior for over six months, they are thought to be in this maintenance stage. There is an ongoing commitment to sustaining this new behavior that includes plans for finding and using additional support and coping strategies during stressful times. Also, there are continued positive reinforcements for long-term behavior change. Sam has a very good chance of reaching the maintenance stage.  

Sam’s process of behavior change (i.e. becoming organized at work) is a clear example of how to comprehend the stages of change model and to understand where you might be in this process of change. As soon as you know which stage you are in, you can then work to move to the next stage. Once you are truly ready for change, you will be amazed at the support, direction and teachers that become available. Change becomes easier and the rewards greater. Good luck on your process of change and I look forward to hearing your stories about what teachers appeared for you and how doors opened when you became truly ready for this change.

Read other articles and learn more about Julia M. Rahn, Ph.D.

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