How do you help someone not ready for help?


Dealing with a physical ailment or limitation can be really difficult. Some people quickly get an “I’m going to kick this!” attitude and they’re very easy to help. You provide them emotional support and hold up and celebrate their successes. Working with them to create a vision of a healthy future creates that positive mindset needed to power through tough times. Not to mention the impact that has on the mind-body connection and the body’s ability to repair itself.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t start out with a great attitude. There are several stages we all go through when we’re trying to make a change to our lifestyle. Once someone realizes they have to do something (lose weight, quit smoking, exercise or finally start a course of treatment) they often get stuck. Stage 2 of behavioral change is contemplation; they acknowledge that change needs to occur and they think about solving it but there is no commitment. Many get stuck here in the “I will someday” mindset. They are waiting for absolute certainty or a “magic bullet” to ensure success. They’re simply afraid to try anything because of the possibility of failure or disappointment.

The only way you can help at this point is to help them see all of their options and to create a vision of a healthy future. You want them to have so many images of success available that the idea of failure is minimized. You can also establish a helping relationship. Let them know you’ll be there when they decide to move forward. Pushing someone at this stage, before they’re ready to commit to action, will almost ensure failure and could even damage your relationship.

If you know someone in this position, don’t push. The idea of “tough love” sometimes comes to mind but this isn’t the point to muscle someone into change. (Sometimes taking a hard stance will be useful once they’ve made up their mind to act and they need energy or encouragement to follow through on their plan.) Instead, just be there for that person and talk—a lot. Talk about what they hope for themselves, what are all of the options they could be trying, what are the advantages of trying and what are the minuscule risks to trying. Once they see they have options and have control over their course of action, then they might be ready to make some plans.

Photo credit: Hilary Sian / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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