The stages of change

Oct 23, 2019

For most people change does not come easy and making a lasting change in behavior is rarely a simple process. Changing behavior usually take commitment, effort, and emotion regardless of your goal. Most people have struggled to change a behavior in their lifetime.  

The Stages of Change model demonstrates that change is rarely simple and often requires patience and small steps toward a larger goal. In this model, the five stages are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.


Precontemplation Stage (Not Ready):

During this stage the individual is “not ready” for change. The individual does not even consider changing their behavior. For example, individuals deny there is a health risk associated with using tobacco products or a person does not think they need to lose weight although it is affecting their health. They does not see their behaviors as a problem. They might even think the people that point out their behaviors are exaggerating. In this stage, people are thought to be reluctant, rebellious, resigned, and rationalizing. These individuals do not plan to take action in the foreseeable future. Also, multiple unsuccessful attempts at change can lead to discouragement about the ability to change and keep the individual in this stage for a long time.

Contemplation Stage (Getting Ready):

Individuals in this stage of change are willing to think about change and consider giving up a behavior. They begin to understand they have a problematic behavior. However, they are highly ambivalent about change. They have not fully made the decision to change their behavior. The individual begins to learn more about their problem and attempts to understand why it is a problem. It is helpful to consider the pros and cons of a behavior in this stage. Individuals might think about the previous attempts they have made to stop the behavior, and what caused them to be unsuccessful in the past. Sometimes people stay in this stage for long periods because of their profound ambivalence. In this stage, individuals are not ready for action oriented programs that expect them to act immediately.

Preparation Stage (Ready):

In this stage, individuals prepare for change. They might experiment with small changes to prepare for overall change. For example, an individual might sample protein shakes as they prepare to change their diet for weight loss. All the pros and cons from the contemplation stage help the individual prepare for change. Ambivalence is no longer a barrier for change. Most individuals in this stage will make serious attempts toward changing the behavior. The individual develops a plan of action for change such as meeting with a counselor, joining fitness classes, or buying a self-help book. Individuals in this stage would do well in an action-oriented program.

Action Stage:

Individuals take action and make specific modifications to their life in this stage. Action is not enough if people gloss over the prior stages. It is important to be prepared and plan for the action stage. Sometimes individuals need help from clinicians to continue assessing pitfalls and problem solve barriers during this stage.

Maintenance Stage: 

Individuals have made long-term changes in their lifestyle and are working to prevent relapse in this stage. During this time, individuals become more confident they can successful maintain their lifestyle changes. The individual feels less discouraged about previous unsuccessful attempts. However, some individuals recycle through the stages of change several time before the change becomes permanent.


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