Key for healthy behavior: Tips to the 5 stages of change
Do you ever think about changing any of your habits? Almost every year, we make a few new year resolutions, but why do we do it? This is simply because we think of bringing some changes to our everyday lifestyle. We either want to adopt some new habits or put an end to our unhealthy behavior.
Whatever our goals are, whether losing weight, learning something new, or quitting something unhealthy, change never comes easy. It is a long-term process of different techniques involving trial & error methods with taking small steps each day.
The whole process requires time, effort, commitment, devotion & emotional involvement. Psychologists or therapists have discovered that people usually go through 5 stages of change, and hence they have accordingly devised effective techniques to help people change.
Understanding the 5 stages of change, how it comes into play, and finding ways to work through each stage helps us reach our goals faster. And to work your way through the 5 stages of change, one must be able to identify which stage of change they are in.
However, the elements of change or the 5 stages of change do not follow the same sequence in every person. Because change only comes to a person when he has the will to change.
People are ready to change only when they can see the consequences of their actions. When speaking of change here, it is in terms of behavioral change.
This post will introduce you to the 5 stages of change and the important elements of change. Most mental health researchers have found these 5 stages of change model to apply to different types of concerns.
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The 5 Stages of Change
The first stage of change is known as the precontemplation stage. The term pre-contemplation means that people in this stage are not yet thinking about change or perhaps not considering a change.
This is because, during this stage, people often do not realize that there is a behavioral problem. However, other people around them might see through the issues clearly. But since a person themselves do not realize they have a problem, they tend to become defensive against their bad habits.
In this stage, a person prefers not to discuss their habits & put focus on them, because according to them nothing is wrong. This is why people at this stage are often referred to be in a state of denial since they claim their habits to not be of any problem.
Two aspects mainly characterize this stage are:
- state of denial
- ignorance towards the problem
At this stage, an individual hardly seeks therapy or help from an expert. However, if a person seeks help, therapists at this stage mainly focus on introducing the problems to the person. So that an individual become more open to the whole process of change.
The second stage is termed the contemplation stage. In contrast to the first stage, i.e., the pre-contemplation stage, an individual at this stage is more open to the idea of owning their problems.
During this stage, an individual becomes more aware of their bad habits & their consequences. This is why they tend to give more time to think about their habits and behavioral problems. A person starts to compare the consequences & how badly they might reflect upon others.
However, in doing so, they develop confusions regarding their will to change. Because at this stage, an individual focuses on both the pros & cons of their bad habits equally. Therefore, at times the pros outweigh the cons.
Because of this confusion & uncertainty, a person develops a sense of ambivalence and has no clear intentions of change. The contemplation stage may even last for years, as the person thinks about change but is not really committed to change.
- Conflicted emotions
Therapists or experts at this stage use an approach known as motivational interviewing. The approach is intended to help motivate change.
The third stage out of the 5 stages of change is called the preparation stage. This is the stage when an individual is fully committed to change & starts preparing for that.
This stage is experimental or research-oriented as individuals try to gather more information on how to quit their bad habits and how to develop change.
Individuals during this stage begin with small changes. For example, they will seek out help from others. They will talk to others regarding their issues and how they can be changed because they believe that changing their behavior or quitting the bad habits will lead to a better life.
This is the stage where therapy is the most helpful because the individual involved is willing to give 100%. Therefore, therapists can easily suggest approaches & techniques that will be more beneficial.
The following characteristics can identify this stage:
- Gathering more information
- Experimenting with changes
- Taking small steps
Tip: Reading self-help books, joining support groups can be very helpful to people in this stage.
The next stage from the 5 stages of change is known as the action stage. And as the name suggests, this fourth stage involves individuals taking direct actions or steps to achieve their goals.
This stage is the most visible because steps taken by an individual are literal actions. Family members, friends, and others can see the changes developing in a person.
This stage mostly depends on an individual’s willpower & determination. Therefore, this stage is the shortest stage of all. It usually lasts for a maximum of 6 months and even a minimum of 1 week, depending on how strongly a person wants to change.
Being around people who are motivating & supporting helps a lot during this stage. Therefore, sometimes people might need to cut ties with some of those people who might sabotage change.
An individual must have full faith in his actions. And reward themselves for every small success they make.
A single element often identifies this stage:
- Taking direct action towards achieving the goals
And the last stage from the 5 stages of change is the maintenance stage. The maintenance stage is the most difficult stage of the ‘5 stages of change’ model because, during this stage, individuals have to avoid any temptations for former habits & behavior.
During this stage, the only goal is to try & keep up with the changes one has made. This is not always easy because relapse is a very common phenomenon during transformations. And relapse prevention is not easy to maintain.
And if you fail to maintain your goals, do not overstrain yourself because it is very important to keep yourself motivated during these stages. Therapy is very useful in this stage; therapists know the right ways to keep people on track.
Individuals must remain calm during this stage & constantly feel supported, motivated. This stage requires maximum support & appreciation.
Tips: It is normal & natural to fail during this stage. However, it is important to remind yourself of how far you have come. So, try taking small steps each day and appreciate your success.
Consult a therapist for better relapse prevention skills.
So these 5, pre-contemplation contemplation, preparation action & maintenance, are the 5 stages of change. However, according to a model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, known as the Transtheoretical Model, the ‘termination’ state is added as the 6th stage of change.
Termination is the final stage of change, but most people do not identify this stage. This stage is an additional stage in the stages of the change model, which was developed during the late 1970s.
In this stage, an individual no longer requires therapy or help from the outside. Therefore, most mental health programs do not include this stage in the stages of change model.
After successfully adopting changes and learning to maintain the changes, one no longer needs therapy. So in simple words, when the treatment is completed, it is known as a termination.
This stage is mostly defined by characteristics such as zero urges to return to the former unhealthy behaviors. And there are absolutely no chances of relapse after a person reaches termination. This is why there are very few chances of an individual reaching this state.
Most people remain in the maintenance stage and once or twice faces a relapse. But for those who are successful in reaching the ‘termination’ stage are completely out of problem behavior.
Tips: Even after a formal termination, individuals can still seek therapy for moral support at any time.
Word of Advice/ Final Thoughts
It is never easy to adopt changes. And it is more difficult to keep up with the changes. However, if you are determined to do so, you will be able to achieve it someday.
Also, it is unnecessary that progress can only be achieved through these stages in a sequence. This method may not apply to all. The only thing that helps progress is your efforts and determination.
And if an individual feels less motivated or encouraged to stay on track, it is best advised to seek professional help. A therapist will always keep you on track.