The Mighty Logo

The 3 Words That Can Help You Make Positive Change

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

There are countless clichés in the English language about “change.”

“Change is never easy, but always worth it.”

“The only thing constant in life is change.”

And let’s not forget the Serenity Prayer, commonly quoted and used as inspiration in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

Change is all around us. More importantly, the desire for change seems to be omnipresent. We are always aspiring for that “next step” — in self-improvement, in our relationships, in our careers; the list goes on. 

So, what needs to happen for us to truly be prepared to embrace change?

To sum it up using three key words: we need to be ready, willing and able.

My therapist first used this phrase with me in one of our sessions during a conversation about my own change process with regard to my mental illness recovery. He explained to me how all three of these simple, two-syllable words need to be present in my mind and my heart if I wanted to make lasting change and progress.

According to English Lessons Brighton, these three terms are very similar, yet slightly different in very important ways:

• Ready — “prepared to do something in either a physical or mental state, demonstrating either physical or mental capacity or eagerness”

• Willing — “prepared to do something as a choice, demonstrating eagerness”

• Able — “prepared to do something as a possibility, demonstrating capacity to do it, not eagerness”

As you can see, these three words are nearly indiscernible from one another by means of definition. However, to make a lasting change, we must manifest all three. It is not enough to simply embody one or two; we might see some change with one or two, but it will not be lasting or true change. 

Let’s consider an example. Say that your goal/idea for change is to start taking better care of your mental health. You decide that you want to start seeing a therapist and attending weekly counseling sessions to work on this goal and make this change. Remember, true and lasting change will only occur if you are willing, ready and able. Let’s look at each component in isolation, keeping this example, and the definitions above, in mind. 

Able: Are you physically capable of attending therapy sessions, either in-person or online? Will your insurance cover the sessions? Are you able to cover any co-pay or deductible? Can you arrange for childcare or time off of work to attend your sessions, if necessary?

“Able” includes all the logistical considerations. This is where you take into account the time, money and any other “administrative” variables involved in making this change.

Willing: Are you going to actually call and schedule the first appointment? After you schedule it, are you going to get in your car, drive there and walk in the door? Are you willing to be open and honest with the therapist about what you’re feeling and experiencing?

“Willing” involves the element of choice. If you are willing to make a change, you are choosing to voluntarily engage in the change process and all of the steps that this process may include.

Ready: Here’s the tough one. Are you ready? Are you ready to internalize the words exchanged between you and your therapist? Are you ready to experience difficult emotions in a way that will serve you in the long run? Are you ready to translate what you learn and discover in therapy into your other relationships? Are you ready to let go of some aspects of your past, in order to move forward and experience real change?

Being “ready” is easier said than done. We might think we’re “ready” for a lot of things, even when we’re really not. But “ready” is where the true change occurs. It is where the lasting progress is made. Without being ready, we are not able to truly embody and manifest the change we are making. If we are not ready, we are not able to be vulnerable, humble, and malleable. Some change may occur, but it will eventually dissipate or begin to feel unsatisfying, simply because we weren’t ready.

Ready, willing and able. Three two-syllable words that can make all the difference. The trifecta of change. Next time you or someone you know is thinking of making a change, consider these three elements. Are you able? Possibly. Are you willing? Maybe. Are you ready? Maybe not (or maybe not yet).

A version of this story appeared on Psychology Today.

Getty image via Lisa Vlasenko

Originally published: February 5, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home