Stages of Change
Whether you want to stop abusing substances, the addictive cycle, stop smokinig, lose weight, or accomplish another goal, there is no single solution that works for everyone. You may have to try several different techniques, often through a process of trial-and-error, in order to achieve your goal. It is during this period that many people become discouraged and give up on their behavior change goals. The key to maintaining your goals is to try new techniques and find ways to stay motivated.
Psychologists have developed a number of ways to effectively help people change their behavior. Many of these techniques are used by therapists, physicians, and teachers. Researchers have also proposed theories to explain how change occurs. One of the best-known approaches to change is known as the "Stages of Change" model, which was introduced in the late 1970's by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente who were studying ways to help people quit smoking. The Stages of Change Model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behavior.
In this model, change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process of making a lifelong change. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing a behavior.
Find out what stage you're at:
The earliest stage of change is known as precontemplation. During the precontemplation stage, people are not considering a change. People in this stage are often described as "in denial" due to claims that their behavior is not a problem.
If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to your current state or believe that you have no control over your behavior. In some cases, people in this stage do not understand that their behavior is damaging or are under-informed about the consequences of their actions.
If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past? How do you recognize that you have a problem? What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem?
During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing.
Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years. In fact, many people never make it past the contemplation phase. During this stage, you may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits.
If you are contemplating a behavior change, there are some important questions to ask yourself: Why do you want to change? Is there anything preventing you from changing? What are some things that could help you make this change?
During the preparation stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods. If your goal is to quit smoking, you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books.
If you are in the preparation stage, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of successfully making a lasting life change. Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behavior. Prepare a list of motivating statements and write down your goals. Find outside resources such as support groups, counselors or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.
During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time.
For example, many people make a New Year's Resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, begin eating a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.
If you are currently taking action towards achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take. Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change. Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.
The maintenance phase of the Stages of Change Model involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up new behaviors. During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue their change.
If you are trying to maintain a new behavior, look for ways to avoid temptation. Try replacing old habits with more positive actions. Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse. If you do lapse, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was just a minor setback. As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.