The Stages of Change: How to optimise your progress in each area

the stages of change

Change isn’t all or nothing, and change doesn’t always equal action either. Successful change can be incremental and unfold over time as you become more ready to take on a new behaviour.

Psychologists recognised this a while back and developed the Transtheoretical Model of Change, or more commonly known as ‘The Stages of Change’; clearly defining 5 stages which happen when someone is going through the process of change. This model isn’t just for psychologists though, it can be very useful for anyone who wants to make a change and give themselves the best chance of success.

Stages of change can help you recognise where you are currently at, and help you move forward. It can help you further personalise your approach to what is most useful for the stage you are in and what is needed to move to the next one. Change isn’t instant and it isn’t linear and knowing which stage you are at can help you ease your way to the desired health behaviour and increase your likelihood of success.

Each stage has clear signs that can help you understand where you sit, but it also comes with behaviours you can do to help you regardless of where you sit. Even if you are not ready to make a change, you can give yourself tools to move closer to making that change without having to commit just yet. Here are the stages and the tools you can use to move through each of them.

Stage 1: Precontemplation, or ’Not Ready’

What it means: You have no intention to change in the next 6 months. Sometimes we are just not ready to change a certain behaviour, even if we know that it is not good for our health, and that is okay. However, you do want to be ready to change at some point, and you can help yourself to get there without having to commit to making a change just yet.

What you can do: When you don’t feel ready to make a change, it means for you the benefits of the behaviour outweigh the downsides. The best thing you can do to help yourself get ready is to increase the downsides of doing that behaviour, or the benefits of changing that behaviour. This can be in the form of education (e.g. reading an article or book), or to observe the effect it has on others, or to notice how it makes you feel in the long term. Eventually, the negatives will outweigh the positives and you’ll be ready to make a change.

Stage 2: Contemplation or ‘Getting Ready’

What it means: You intend to change in the next 6 months. You are not quite ready to bite the bullet, but you recognise that a change will need to be made in the not-too-distant future. The pros of the change are starting to outweigh the cons, and even though you recognise that it may be difficult, you’re getting ready to put in the effort.

What you can do: Keep increasing the benefits of change and focusing on the downsides of not changing. At some point, the benefits will outweigh the downsides and that will be a turning point for change. You can also work on reducing some of the barriers you might feel to change. For example if you don’t feel you have the time for a certain behaviour, ask yourself: how can you make the time? How can you re-prioritise your days to fit this behaviour in? Making the barriers to change as low as possible will help get your ready to take that step.

Stage 3: Preparation or ‘Ready’

What it means: You’re ready to change and will do so in the next 30 days. At this point the benefits of the change far outweigh the negatives, and you’re feeling excited to get started. This doesn’t mean you need to start straight away. Setting a start date and making an action plan can make all the difference at this stage.

What you can do: Change is difficult, and this is the stage where you can really help secure your success. You can build up your confidence by planning ahead, making a clear action plan and setting SMART goals. You can also think about any obstacles you might face, and how you can navigate these ahead of time, so you do not find yourself unprepared. For example, if you know you’re going to be traveling a certain weekend, how can you help yourself stick to your diet or morning routine?

Stage 4: Action or ‘Doing it’

What it means: You’ve been engaging in the change for less than 6 months. You’re doing it, but it still feels new, and it might not always go to plan. Change is not always linear and comes with ups and downs. This stage is about finding out the best way to incorporate the change for you so it is sustainable and you can keep it up in the long term.

What you can do: You can experiment with using different kinds of rewards for the change to make it more attractive or see how you can change your environment to make the change easier to stick to. This can also mean getting support from people around you to help you stick to the change. At this stage it is particularly important not to get discouraged by setbacks. Setbacks are actually incredibly valuable as it shows you what doesn’t work, and therefore gets you one step closer to what does work. The important thing is to see setbacks not as failure but as a learning opportunity about yourself and what you need to succeed.

Stage 5: Maintenance or ‘Keeping it Up’

What it means: You’re engaging in the change for more than 6 months. At this point you have got yourself in a good routine around the changed behaviour, and it is starting to feel natural to you. It is less effort to keep it up as you’ve figured out the best way of incorporating it in your daily life.

What you can do: You’re doing well, keep things up! You can keep doing the behaviours of the previous stage, to make it even more sustainable for yourself. You’re successful at the change in your normal circumstances, but a good way to keep it up is to plan ahead for whenever you are not in your normal circumstances, such as holidays, business trips, stressful times or any other change in circumstances. Being flexible with your adopted change and being able to stick to it even when in an unusual situation is the last cornerstone to successful long-term change.

One way to move through the stages of change quicker is by working with a health coach. They can help you increase the positives of and remove the barriers to change. They can also help you navigate challenges and increase your confidence, as well as make a detailed action plan tailored to your circumstances, which leads to more successful outcomes. To find out more about working with a health coach, check out this article or book a free discovery call with our health coach Isabelle using the form below.

This article was written by Health Coach Isabelle.

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