Stages of Change: Learn More About the 6 Stages

stages of change

Ever tried to eat healthier or work out more? Perhaps you may have tried to or have actually given up an addiction. Even more relevant to these times are attempts to cut down on the amount of time you spend on social media. Something usually happens to urge us to make these changes. Two main reasons for making a change, especially in your behavior are a desire for a better circumstance and a desire to reduce or eliminate a negative one. Regardless of one’s reason, change is not easy. Check out this article on how to set goals for effective change.  According to a school of thought called the Transtheoretical Model, there are 6 stages of change. In this article, we will discuss what they are. 


This is the first of the 6 stages of change. Contemplation means to consider thoughtfully. So pre-contemplation is pre-thoughtful consideration. At this stage, you do not believe you need change. There is no desire to have things any other way. In fact, people at this stage often defend their behavior passionately. Take a doctor who smokes for instance. When questioned about the unhealthy nature of their habit, they may say, “Something has to kill us right?” Or, a person who spends hours on social media would argue that, “This is how I keep up with current affairs. It’s not all vanity you know?”


The next stage is where the thoughtful consideration begins. At this stage, our smoking doctor (the doctor could be good looking as well), for whatever reason, has begun to believe that they need to give up smoking. Or social media people may have realized that their mental health is being negatively affected by it. The pros and cons of their behaviors are weighed multiple times. Even if the cons outweigh the pros, deciding to move forward with the change is still not guaranteed. There’s a 50/50 chance things could go either way. So our smoker may say something like, what would I do to relax if I can’t smoke. And our social media person at this stage could say, it’s possible that my low self-image could be caused by my social media feed. When a person finally decides to make a change, they move to the preparation stage.


Preparation is the 3rd of the 6 stages of change. By the time this stage sets in, a person has resolved to make the change. So plans are put in place to facilitate this decision. The smoker may start looking into nicotine patches and other stress-relieving practices. Our social media person may set time limits for time spent on social media, or look for other activities to keep them away from their phone. 


As the name implies, this is the stage where the change begins to manifest clearly. New behaviors are practiced, while old ones are stopped. Sometimes the behavioral change is abrupt. For example, our smoker may quit cold turkey, or our social media person may delete the apps form their phones altogether. In other situations, this stage is gradual and requires time and practice to get used to. People at this stage are often open to receiving help and support from others. This is especially helpful in transitioning to the 5th of the 6 stages of change.


To know that change has really occurred, the new behavior replacing the old one must be sustained. At this stage, people have mastered what or who may trigger the old behavior, and avoid it or them. The benefits of the change serve as motivation to keep up the new behavior. Our smoker may notice an improvement of health, and our social media person may start to have a better self-image. This may be the final stage of change for some. However, with behavior that is not easy to change, the next stage usually occurs.


As mentioned, some people will never experience this stage. Most however do, making this the final of the 6 stages of change. Once your body and brain have repeatedly done something for some time, it is not easy to just stop doing that thing. As a result, many people relapse after they the action stage, and sometimes even after the maintenance stage. Relapses are often unintentional but significantly dent the morale of a person. With the right support and/or determination, a relapsed person can find their way back to the preparation, action, or maintenance stage. Unfortunately, others get stuck here. Relapses serve as lessons that teach the person how to avoid relapsing in the future. 

So, if you or anyone you know is trying to change a behavior, it is good to know these 6 stages of change. A great tool you can use to help in the process is SMART goals. Another valuable resource is a professional counselor/therapist. Good luck with whatever behavior you may be trying to change in your life. You can do it!

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