Strategies for lifestyle changes: The stages of change

We all know that change doesn't just happen.  We go through different stages in our thinking and actions before we actually make change.  And knowing what stage we are in, can help us understand why we haven't quite made the change we want.


There are 6 stages of change described in the work of Prochaska and DiClemente (1986, 1992).  These are:
  1. Precontemplation - no intention to change in the unforeseeable future; unaware a problem exists
  2. Contemplation - aware a problem exists; seriously thinking of change; some ambivalence
  3. Preparation - intending to act in the next month; reduced ambivalence and exploration of options
  4. Action - taking action through modification of behavior, experiences or environment
  5. Maintenance - work to prevent relapse and consolidate gain
  6. Relapse - a recurrence of the undesired behavior or elimination of a desired behavior

Obviously, not everyone goes into relapse, but the goal, if you do, is to move back through the stages again and find the motivation to try again.  

As well as thinking about these stages and our own motivation, they are also useful to consider when we are trying to help others find their own motivation for change.  For example, if you have a spouse who is very overweight and it is affecting their health, you want them to make changes but maybe they are in the precontemplation stage.  What can you do to help move them into the contemplation stage?



Here are some ideas that may help:
In the precontemplation stage

  • phrase questions like "have you thought about......"; 
  • explore issues of "importance" and "confidence"
  • discuss past 'failures' and reframe them as learning experiences
  • heighten awareness but also provide options for reducing fear
     if these tactics don't work - just wait.

In the contemplation stage
  • provide information and facts
  • discuss outcome if there is no change
  • discuss alternatives
  • set a short term goal
     if these tactics don't work - keep reminding

In the preparation stage
  • discuss options
  • set a time and date to just do it
  • find a partner/club also wanting to make the change
     if these tactics don't work, provide evidence that underpins your concern

As you can see, if you use the suggestion for the preparation stage on someone who is pre-contemplation, you aren't going to get very far - and vice versa.

Aim to ask questions and listen more than give your point of view or tell them what to do.  Brain storm ideas together, discuss pros and cons etc.   And you can do this for yourself too....take some paper and start writing ideas or two columns - one with pros for change and one with cons for change.


What stage of change are you in right now?

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