Stages of Change

3 11 2010

Be the change you want to see in the world. – Gandhi

Hello everybody.  I hope that everyone has recovered from any self-induced sugar comas that may have occurred over the weekend.  We were incredibly busy.  Emma, our daughter turned 2 on Friday, we celebrated Halloween both Saturday AND Sunday nights attending a couple of huge neighborhood events, had Emma’s major BDay party on Sunday am, and then got her off to her first day of school on Monday.  I need a vacation.

But first, here is the next installment that I hope will be helpful for you.  Last time we talked about a 7-step process you can use alone or with a helper/coach to help move you towards a goal.  Today I want to step back and discuss the stages that one must go through in order to increase the likelihood of successful, permanent change.  This material is from a book titled Changing for Good by James Prochaska, et al, a book I recommend if the following is interesting to you.  To summarize, there are 6 stages that one goes through when changing a behavior:

1. Precontemplation.  This includes people who do not even recognize that there is a problem, someone in complete denial, as well as people who may recognize a problem, but have no desire to even consider changing behavior.  Eg. a person may have 5-6 drinks most evenings, know that it is too much and not healthy, but feels it gives him an advantage with the business dinners he often hosts, or helps him unwind and “deal with” the demanding family life after a long and stressful day of work.  It could be argued effectively that anyone in precontemplation is exhibiting some degree of denial.  Many argue that we cannot completely consciously do things that harm ourselves, and so destructive behaviors must be at least on some level, unconscious or subconscious.  Let the debate rage on.

2.  Contemplation.  Here people acknowledge that they have a problem and start to think seriously about addressing it.  They may have some vague plans on doing something about it in the near future, but have not started preparing or taking any action.  On the other hand, they may be far from taking any action as many people stay stuck in contemplation indefinitely.  People who have successfully quit smoking by themselves (without counseling) stay in contemplation stage for an average of 2 years.

3.  Preparation.  Here people are often planning to take action soon, often with a date set within a month or so.  They are making final adjustments before they begin to change their behavior.  (The next step is “Action”, but often the preparation stage involves actions as well, such as emptying out the fridge of unhealthy items prior to starting the “Action” step of “eating healthier”.)  This is the stage where people will often make their intentions to change publicly known.  People who are UNSUCCESSFUL with change often skip or minimize this stage, failing to consider obstacles or planning a well detailed plan for success.

4.  Action.  This is the money shot, where people make the move for which they have been preparing.  It is probably the busiest stage and requires the greatest amount of time and energy.  Commitment is important here.  Activities here are more visible and receive the most recognition from others.  As Dr. Prochaska points out, there is a danger with equating Action with Change, as it overlooks the importance of the stages leading up to Stage 4, as well as the important stages that follow.

5.  Maintenance.  Change NEVER ends with action.  This is never more evident than with people who have tried numerous diets, sometimes lost remarkable amounts of weight, but always regains the weight and sometimes more.  They failed to consider their changes as permanent lifestyle changes (who could stay on  the Atkins diet forever?) and overlooked the challenges associated with preventing lapses and relapses.  Commitment is very important here.  Maintenance stage can last from several months to a lifetime.

6.  Termination.  Many folks don’t even include this as a stage, believing that folks never can completely let their guard down or else they may relapse.  For addictive behaviors, this is most likely true.  But for the sake of the 6 stages, Termination is when the former behavior or problem presents no temptation or threat, and will never return, WITHOUT any further effort on their part. Likely whether true termination is possible or not is not just dependent on whatever the problem happens to be, but also the person who has undergone the change in behavior.

So that’s it, the 6 stages of change.  Next I am going to outline 9 processes that we can employ at different stages in order to help keep us moving forward in our efforts for successful change.  Hope you got some value from this.  I would love your feedback.




4 responses

4 11 2010
Ollie Treat

Dane–I would say Doctor Prochaska’s stages are dead-on. I have two examples: {QUITTING DRINKING AND DRUGGING} Within the context of this blog, I would say I spent much of my adult life in Precontemplation concerning my drug addiction and alcoholism. When I moved over into contemplation, preparation and action, I was in the ‘bubble’ of the HOW Foundation, a long-term recovery center, where I still work today. Maintenance, then, for me, has become both a lifestyle and a livelihood. Termination, for the addict or alcoholic, is dangerous, but not unheard of. The “Twelve-Step” method of recovery, which works for me, is NOT a fan of Termination.

{QUITTING SMOKING} I only remember contemplation, for a LONG time, then, the KEY for me on this one, Preparation. Setting a quit date, tapering down on the number of cigarettes I smoked, Chantix for a month, including a week before my quit date, daily supportive e-mails from the Chantix website, etc.

I smoked 50 cigarettes a day for about 20 years, so if I can do it, anyone can!!


Baby steps.

I think DESIRE and PREPARATION have been my two key elements in real, sweeping changes. You gotta want it.

4 11 2010
Dane Treat

Hooray, that’s good stuff. I was wondering if you considered your years prior to quitting smoking as Precomtemplation or Contemplation. I think it’s really just academic, but I was still curious. 2 down, one to go. Won’t minimize the challenge of losing weight by saying something like, “you’ve got the harder ones out of the way,” as each person + situation is unique. Check out that book if you have time (since you can read 3-4 books a week, I suspect you do) Order it on the HOW’s dime. Good resource for your Peeps. Thanks for the comments!

4 11 2010
brian jeffs

Great to hear Ollie !!! I am very proud for you, and your family !!! Thanks for sharing.

4 11 2010
Ollie Treat

I would say that I was in Contemplation for about 3 or 4 years on the smoking thing; the drug and alcohol thing I would tie in some “spiritual intervention” to be completely accurate and honest–but with smoking, Dane, I would say that, yeah, about 3 or 4 years I had a vague desire to quit. Most of my adult life I truly LOVED smoking, so I would have had to have been in precontemplation, ’cause I didn’t wanna stop at ALL.

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