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Welcome to The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR Consulting. Take our survey, measure your stress levels, find out your Quality of Work Life (QWL) score and determine whether you're able to cope. The scenario below continues to explain why we launched this survey. Read previous columns: How's your life at work?; Why should a company care about its employees' health?; What can a manager do to help an unhappy employee?; Is coping with work stress good enough? Examine our Infographic explaining your QWL score. Check out the employer's version of the survey ; the Cost of Doing Nothing Worksheet. And read a list of ways to help reduce your stress.

Jack has been on track for several weeks now and continues to work on his new lifestyle habits. For the first time in years he noticed on his morning drive that he felt OK going to work. As he pulled into his parking spot he thought to himself, "Why has it taken me so long to do something? It was not that hard to make some changes that made me feel better."

Jack was frustrated with himself and was grieving lost time and opportunities. What he was experiencing is quite normal, as grieving is a part of the change process of coming to terms with your past in order to embrace the future.

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When he got to work, Jack asked his happy co-worker Jill why she thought it had taken him so long to take action, thinking she might have an educated view since her husband, Jim, is an employee assistance counsellor.

"Why do you think people like me, who know they are not happy, simply don't take action to feel better?" he asked her.

"I always knew I was unhappy but for whatever reason I must have resisted change. My wife, Sally, has told me for years that I need to do something different. I'm not ashamed to say that after a few employee assistance sessions my situation did not seem so confusing. My counsellor helped me evaluate what I want against what I was doing and to make a plan. Today I noticed for the first time in a long time that I felt OK. So I'm a bit frustrated with myself."

Jill smiled and said, "I understand Jack. My husband and I have talked about why people keep doing things that they know are not in their best interest over the long term."

She said her husband had explained to her about five stages of change.

Jill went to a whiteboard and drew out the five stages. She reviewed each of them and when she got to the contemplation stage she said that Jim has made it clear that this is a sticking point for many.

The five stages of change:

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1. Pre-contemplation: This stage is about avoidance, the person does not accept that there is a problem.

2. Contemplation: This stage is about acknowledgement. The person knows there is a problem and starts thinking about the pros and cons of making a change.

3. Preparation: The person starts thinking about making a change, making plans, and thinking about what their life could be like if they changed.

4. Action: The person starts to practice and engage in new behaviours.

5. Maintenance: The person has been practicing new behaviours for at least six months and so new habits are being established, which means there is less risk for relapse.

Jill said many unhappy people stay in the contemplation stage because they haven't found the motivation to change, or they don't believe they can change. "The root cause of this belief often is under-developed coping skills. As a result, they repeat old habits, regardless of the risk," she said

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People also have to commit to changing their old habits and starting better ones to replace them.

"People often resist change for no reason, even if it doesn't make sense to an onlooker. Many people continue with habits that they know are not good for them – like overeating – but do so because they make them feel better at the time," she said.

"In the early stages, the stakes are high because if the new habit doesn't meet the person's needs they are at risk of relapsing to the old one," she added.

Jack took in all in. "I certainly want to be sure I get a plan in place so that I don't relapse to where I was. I may have a ways to go to be as happy as you, Jill, but I am a lot closer today than I was a month ago."

"I'm glad you've made a change for the better, Jack," Jill replied. "I have learned a great deal from listening to Jim over the years, and when you break it down, life is pretty simple: What we think will define what we do."

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