Maintain and Step Up

The Stages of Change model I reference in User Adoption Strategies has a final stage called “maintenance.” The intent of this fifth stage in the model is that the change introduced is done repeatedly, not just once. That the change in behaviour becomes the new way of living or working, not a one-time experiment that’s quickly done and quickly forgotten. It’s the building of momentum after getting the bike going, of not smoking on day four after three no cigarette days, and of closing the rings on your Apple Watch again today. It is about starting a chain of change and not breaking the chain today.

Maintenance is an essential stage in change, and arguably it is the most important stage because it’s the cadenced practice of change that’s makes change the new reality. A change embraced is a change lived daily, not a magical place to visit on vacation once a year.

My question, then, is whether there’s a difference between “maintenance” and “settled”, and how to embrace continuous improvement while maintaining what you’ve already conquered? To maintain something is to keep the object or practice at a particular level of quality. There is no sense of pushing beyond a pre-determined level though; maintenance is about prior levels, not new future possibilities. To become settled in doing something is to continue in a prescribed way – a settled way of life. Again, there’s no sense of pushing forward.

Perhaps the way to reconcile maintenance and continuous improvement is to see a stair case of change. To make a change is to climb to the next step. To maintain the change is not to step back down to the previous step. To embrace continuous improvement is to develop the skill to stay on the step you’re currently on, but also to look towards the requirements of the next step.

Maintain and step up.

Maintain and step up.

Maintain and step up.

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