Even if you’re just thinking about changing a behavior, you’ve taken a vital step, according to the Stages of Change model.

Change can be hard — especially if you want to change a long-held behavior or habit.

Perhaps you’re considering quitting smoking. Or maybe you want to start an exercise regimen for the first time in your life. At first, you might just toy with the idea and then forget about it. Then 2 years later, you get serious about making a real change.

Whatever your level of commitment at this time, you’re in one of the Stages of Change, a model used in psychotherapy to reflect your readiness to change a particular behavior.

The Stages of Change model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, is a framework that’s often used in psychotherapy to understand how people make changes to their behavior.

Developed by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in 1983, the model proposes that change occurs in a series of stages, each with its own unique challenges and opportunities.

Here are the 5 stages:

  1. Precontemplation: This is the stage where you’re not yet acknowledging that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. You may be resistant to others’ advice and even give excuses for the habit or behavior.
  1. Contemplation: In this stage, you understand there’s a need for change and are beginning to consider the possibility of it. You may be uncertain about the whole idea and unsure if you’re ready to take action.
  1. Preparation: In this stage, you’ve decided to change and are getting ready to take action. You may be seeking out resources and support to help you make the change.
  1. Action: This is the stage where you actively make changes and take steps to address the issue. This may involve changing behaviors, seeking out therapy, or making lifestyle changes.
  1. Maintenance: In this final stage, you’ve successfully made the change and are working to maintain your new behaviors and habits over time. This stage can be challenging, as it requires ongoing effort and vigilance to avoid relapse.

Evidence suggests that the Stages of Change model is effective across a broad spectrum of problems, including:

Understanding the Stages of Change model can be helpful in making mindful changes, as it helps you recognize where you are in the change process and what steps you may need to take to move forward.

For example, if you’re in the contemplation stage, you may recognize that you’re still toying with the idea of change and have yet to make a firm decision. If you’re in the preparation stage, you know you’ve made a decision but may need to create a plan so you can take real action.

The model can also help you identify potential barriers to change and develop strategies to overcome them.

For instance, if you find yourself slipping back into old habits during the maintenance stage, you can use the knowledge gained from the model to see how far you’ve come. Then you can identify potential triggers and develop coping mechanisms to help you stay on track.

It’s important to note that not everyone progresses through the stages of change in a linear fashion. Some individuals may move back and forth between stages, while others may get stuck in one stage and have difficulty moving forward.

Here are some steps you can take to make positive changes in your life based on the Stages of Change model:

  1. Identify the behavior you want to change: What behavior or habit do you want to change? This could relate to your health, relationships, career, finances, or personal growth. Be specific and clear about what you want to change and why.
  1. Determine your current stage of change: Where are you in the Stages of Change model? Are you still just considering making a change (contemplation stage)? Or maybe you’re already preparing to take action (preparation stage).
  1. Create a plan: Develop a plan that includes specific, achievable, and time-bound goals. Then break the goals into smaller, manageable steps so that you can achieve them. People often mistakenly associate change solely with action and don’t do the important preparations.
    • An analysis found that being prepared for change (treatment) was linked to better outcomes among people with eating disorders or substance and alcohol use disorders.
  1. Build a support system: Identify the people in your life who can support you in making the change. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people can help you stay motivated and accountable.
  1. Implement the plan: Take action on your plan and start making changes. Track your progress, celebrate your successes, and learn from your setbacks.
  1. Stay accountable: Find ways to hold yourself accountable, such as setting up reminders, tracking your progress, and sharing your goals with friends or family.
  1. Embrace a growth mindset: Promoting positive change requires a growth mindset, which means being flexible, trying new things, and accepting failures as part of the learning process. Focus on progress rather than perfection.
  1. Adjust as needed: If you encounter obstacles or setbacks, don’t give up. Adjust your plan as needed and continue to move forward.

Finding support on your journey

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By understanding the Stages of Change model and using it as a guide, you can create a roadmap for making positive changes in your life.

Remember that changing long-term habits is a process, and it takes time, patience, and commitment. You might face setbacks and failures, and that’s OK.

Celebrate your successes along the way, no matter how small they may be.