Research on human behavior suggests that there are 5 stages of preparing to make a change in your life. Your intentions, motivations and actions will differ depending on which stage you are in at the time.
There is nothing “bad” about being in any of these stages. It is simply important to understand which stage you are in at the moment so that you can have realistic expectations of yourself and a clear understanding of the consequences of making the choices you are making. Trying to force yourself into something you are not ready for can lead to frustration, anger, resentment, guilt and feeling badly about yourself. This is the breeding ground for “shoulds.” [If you don’t know what I mean by that, it may be time for a refresher session 🙂 ] At the same time, if you are ready to make a change, you can harness that energy into taking actions that will lead you in the right direction and inspire you to succeed. And most importantly, if you have already made an important change, if you skip the last step, you may find yourself back at square one.
According to psychology researchers Prochaska and DiClemente, these are the stages that we all must go through in order to be capable of change in our lives:
Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future. “Pre” meaning before and “Contemplation” meaning thinking about it. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or under-aware of their problems. Because of this, they haven’t even started thinking about the situation as something that needs to be changed. Depending on what the situation is, staying in precontemplation too long can have serious negative consequences. This may be stage when others have noticed the need for change and are starting to bring it to your attention.
Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a change is necessary and are seriously thinking about it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. The individual at this stage is willing to think about making changes or may even be willing to plan to make a change “some day.” However, the individual at this stage is not motivated enough to take the necessary steps at this point in time. Expecting behaviors to change at this stage would be unrealistic. This could set you up for frustration or, worse yet, a feeling that you just can’t do it. The truth is – you’re just not yet ready to do it.
Preparation is a stage that combines intention and changes in behaviors. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month or so. They might start making small changes in an effort to get started. An individual in this stage is actively making plans, has a clear understanding of what they need to do and why they need to do it, and might be testing out small changes. But, it would be unrealistic to expect at this stage that the person would be consistent in action or fully committed to making necessary changes. You might call this the trial-and-error phase.
Action is the stage in which individuals modify their actions, experiences, or environment in order to achieve their goal. Action requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Planning and structure are an important part of taking motivation and turning it into changes in actions. This is where the good stuff happens!
Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent going back to old habits and focus on staying on track for the long haul. For some, this is the hardest stage of all. Some people will slip back into preparation at times or falter in their resolve to action. At this stage, it is critical to have a solid plan for staying on track or, at least, not slipping back past preparation.
Think about something that you have been wanting to change or something that other’s have been suggesting you change. Think about what you would need to do if you, hypothetically, decided to put effort into making it happen. Then, think about each one of those tasks and identify for yourself – are you thinking about it? making small changes in trying to get started? fully committed to it? or, working on keeping it up?
Success is not just in the completion of the change…success lies in doing the best you can at the stage you are in and being aware of what comes next.