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The Five Stages of Change

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The Stages of Change

The process of change isn’t linear.

The process of change isn’t linear.

Around the time Journey’s hit, Don’t Stop Believing, skyrocketed to the top of the charts, two researchers, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, invented a new construct of behavior change that would dramatically influence their field. This theory, the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (or TTM), is widely used today as a tool to assess whether or not a person is ready to adopt a healthier behavior. TTM has stuck around for nearly forty years as the dominant lens that behavior change specialists use when working with a new client, and it encompasses six stages that individuals will encounter during any health transformation, including addiction recovery.

These stages are:

Precontemplation (“I’m not ready!” Or, “No Interest!”) - People hanging out at this stage have no intention of taking action in the foreseeable future, and often don’t realize they’re engaged in a problematic behavior. The drunk driver forced by a court judge to attend AA might be examples of people who fall into the precontemplation stage.

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Contemplation (“I’ll think about it, but I’m still not ready!”) These folks have some inkling that their behavior is sabotaging their well-being, and will start to weigh the pros and cons. Negative consequences are on their mind, but change might feel a little too hard. 

Preparation (“Let’s do this!”) Individuals at the preparation stage are gearing up for action in the immediate future, and have begun taking small steps forward to address their self-sabotaging behavior. I generally meet people at the preparation stage. They’ve already read up on the issue they’re dealing with, and they’re trying to make manageable changes within the blueprint of their former life.

Action (“Check me out!”)  Superheroes in the action stage are fully engaged in reconfiguring their health and environment, and have made measurable modifications to their lifestyle in order to achieve their goals. They’re not afraid to ask for help, and they have probably enlisted a coach, therapist, personal trainer, doctor, or nutritionist for guidance and accountability.

Maintenance (“This IS Me!”) Here’s your butterfly. She’s been sustaining positive action for at least six months and works to prevent a relapse into old, nasty behaviors.

Termination (“What bad habit?”) A much debated category, termination represents people who are no longer tempted by their past and know they won’t again use their old habits as a coping strategy. This sixth stage has also been used for “Relapse,” where the individual has gone back to their old behavior. This stage was not included in the original version of TTM but was added as Termination to Prochaska’s updated model. 

While these stages are sometimes sequential, people can move in and out of a particular stage at any time— particularly in the first year of a health-related behavioral shake up.


Action: Give some thought to these stages of change in relation to your own habits. 

Power Question: Is there at least one health-related behavior that you’d like to change? Where do you currently sit on this model? 


Thanks for reading! Have you had any experience with using the Stages of Change to adopt a new habit or alter a behavior? I’d love to hear from you- leave your thoughts in the comments below. This is post #4 in an extended series on habit change.

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