Stages of Change

You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, right? Anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most of us have experienced this process and know that how it progresses for each of us will be different.

Did you also know there are stages of change? There is a defined process of change that we will experience in many different ways over the years depending on the change we are considering. It’s called the Transtheoretical Model or TTM (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992) and is based on 35 years of scientific research.

Think about a change you are considering or started to make in your life. When you think about the words you use which one applies:

  • I won’t or I can’t
  • I might
  • I will
  • I am
  • I still am
  • I have changed

Where are you with the change you are making?

Here is a bit more about the stages.

  1. Pre-contemplation is the point where you may not believe you have to make a change or that you have the skills needed to make the change. The cons outweigh the pros and there is no plan to begin making the change within the next six months.
  1. Contemplation is where the pros and cons start to even out. You’ve gathered more information about the change or the skills you need and find that there are pros to making the change. This is a point called ambivalence when the pros = cons and there is no driving force to move forward. Change is likely in the next six months.
  1. Preparation is when the pros begin to outweigh the cons and you start preparing to make a change. This change is typically going to happen within the next 30 days.
  1. Action is when you begin taking the steps toward change and the new behavior. You’ve gathered what you needed to help you be successful and took that first step. There is a high chance of relapse at this stage so accountability and alternatives in the mix are key to keeping you moving forward.
  1. Maintenance is when you’ve been doing that new behavior for six months. Confidence is high and the temptations have significantly lowered.
  1. Termination is when you’ve been successfully doing the changed behavior for five years or more.

We each work through these stages at our own pace. As a coach, we help facilitate the change process by working with a client at their current stage. The goal is to work toward the next stage…not to complete the behavior change. 

As an example, expecting a client in pre-contemplation to begin action steps is unreasonable. They don’t yet feel that action is necessary so they will remain defensive. Working to help them understand the risk factors or health benefits of a change is more appropriate. This will help work to increase the pros or reduce the cons of the change.

What stage of change are you in? How can I help?

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