Stages of Change

2 May

The Stages of Change 

Behavior change is not always easily accomplished in one step and often involves going through different stages at your own pace.  You can use theses stages of change to determine what stage you are at regarding a desired behavior and consider what changes you are willing to make to attain your goal.  


You’re not currently considering change or do not plan to change your behavior in the near future.  You may even be unaware a problem exists or feel defensive if others try to help you change.  

For example, maybe you have no desire, thought or intention of starting an exercise program.   


You are aware a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action.  You are weighing the pros and cons of changing your behavior but are still not sure if the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.  While it might take a couple of weeks or longer to get through the contemplation stage, you might be more open to receiving information regarding your needed behavior change.  

For example, you might consider starting an exercise program but are not ready to start yet.


This stage combines intention with behavior.  You have made a commitment and intend to start in the next month.  This usually involves researching or gathering information, developing strategies and identifying resources to help prepare you for behavior change.  It’s important to complete this step so you are prepared to take action.

For example, you want to start exercising so you buy a new pair of tennis shoes and workout clothes, and research several nearby gyms to find out their cost and benefits.


This stage involves the most time and energy and is often the greatest risk for relapse.  It’s important to consider how you can set yourself up for success to prevent relapsing during your progress.  Start by setting short-term goals and committing to them.  To sustain your efforts, motivate yourself with rewards, ask family and friends to keep you accountable, and create an environment that will support your new behavior.  Oftentimes new behaviors are developed after 3-6 months. 

For example, you will make it your goal to exercise regularly 3-5 days/week for 20-60 minutes/day.


Motivation is what gets you started but habit is what keeps you going.  In this stage you attempt to maintain your new behavior and resist the temptation to return to your old behavior.  During this stage it’s important to anticipate situations and barriers that could lead to relapse and prepare yourself with coping strategies in advance.

For example, exercise is now a habit and will continue to be incorporated in your schedule in the future for the long-term.


This stage is common during behavior change and involves returning to old behaviors.  While relapse can be discouraging, it’s important to consider what triggered a relapse, and to restart the process again at the preparation, action or maintenance stage.

For example, you went on vacation for a week and had difficulty getting back into an exercise routine.  Rather than count this as a failure and give up, review your goals and determine how you can start exercising again. 

Be prepared to cycle and recycle through a variety of stages before attaining your goal or desired behavior change.  You may even go through several different stages of change in a day.  However, this is all part of the normal process of going through change. 

Determine what stage of change you are in for each of your desired goals and behaviors and consider ways you can change your desired behaviors with goal setting. 

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