There’s one thing that’s always constant in this world, and that is change. While changing certain things can be hard or scary, inevitably something in our life is always changing.
Sometimes, understanding how change occurs can help you know where to start, how to change things you don’t like. Currently, one of the main “models” or “theories” of change is called the Transtheoretical Model. This model states that there five stages we go through when trying to change something: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Each stage is sort of a prerequisite for the next one, and each one is important. This model can be used to change just about any behaviour.
Stages of Change
Everyone experiences this stage – this is when you have no plans to make a change. Maybe you don’t want to stop drinking yet, stop smoking, or start exercising, the idea is that you have no plans (hence “pre” contemplation). When you are in this stage, to deal with cognitive dissonance you tend to avoid things that makes you realise you probably should change your behaviour. This can include avoiding doctors visits, hanging around people who don’t smoke or who exercise often, or ignoring comments and concerns from family members and friends.
To get past this stage, you need to experience something that makes you realise that this behaviour is keeping you from doing something you want to do, such as being unable to play a sport again because smoking has reduced your athletic ability, unable to comfortably travel using public transportation because you cannot fit in the seats, or unable to play with your children or grandchildren because your weight or endurance level is so diminished.
When we enter contemplation, we are realising or admitting that there is something we would like to change. It can also be when we recognise that a behaviour is in fact not good for us. However, in this stage you have not yet comitted to making the change. We may find that we start weighing pros and cons, such as, “I know I shouldn’t drink so much, but it helps me unwind when I get home from work.” There is a way to get past this though. Try making a list of the pros and cons of whatever it is you are contemplating changing. Once you’ve done this, look back at the cons and ask yourself, “Is there a way I can overcome this?” Seeing the pros and cons, and changing the way you think about it can help to increase your motivation to change.
In preparation, you have taken knowing you need to change to another level. You have decided to make the change. If your goal is to stop smoking, maybe you’ve bought that nicotine packs, but haven’t started using them yet. Looking to stop drinking caffeine? Chances are you’ve already purchased the decaf coffee to drink instead. Maybe you’re looking to lose weight, and have purchased work out clothes, but have not gone to work out yet. The point is, you are preparing to make the change. You are setting things in place, all you have to do is make the next step.
This stage explains it all, you’ve done the action. You have started working out, stopped drinking, or stopped smoking. You’ll still run into obstacles. You may find that you crave a cigarette cravings when you are out with friends, or crave sugar on doughnut Fridays at work. As long as you are still doing the action, you’re still in this stage. Keeping positive affirmations, or giving yourself pep talks is a good way to keep yourself motivated.
Most researchers state that you cannot enter maintenance until you have maintained the “action” stage for at least six months. The difference between action and maintenance, besides the amount of time, is that your focus changes from continuing to integrate the change into your life to preventing a “relapse.”
Going through the changes
Going through the changes is not an easy quick transition. It is easy to go back a stage or two, but then go forward. You may even get all the way to maintenance, but the something happens that sends you back a little bit. What I like about this stage, is that it emphasises that these “relapses” are not failures. You can hop back your plan, and get right back up where you were. Just because you smoked a cigarette while out last night does not mean you are destined and doomed to be a smoker forever.
The other thing I like about this model, is that it changes the act of changing from one big event, to smaller manageable events. When we make proclamations like, “I’m going to get fit and in shape!” That seems a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re like most westerns, you haven’t exercised in ages. However, if you break it down into these stages, it is much more manageable. Instead of going straight to working out all the time. Maybe first you get tennis shoes (or “trainers” if you live in Europe). Then, maybe you do a walk a week, then two walks a week. Maybe even eventually you start a workout class or go running.
Whatever the change may be…
The point is, you can do it! And keep in mind, the only thing that is ever constant in life, is change. Have you found ways that helped you move from one stage to another? Or, was there some stage you had or are having a hard time with?
Works Cited and Suggested Reading
Why Behavior is Hard – And why you should keep trying (Harvard Health Publications)
Stages of Change (PsychCentral)
Detailed Overview of the Transtheoretical Model (The University of Rhode Island Cancer Prevention Research Center)
3 Tips for making change stick (PsychCentral)
Small Victories: How to make changes one step at a time (PsychCentral)