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Last Updated on November 3, 2020

How the Stages of Change Model Helps to Change Your Habits

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How the Stages of Change Model Helps to Change Your Habits

There’s no doubt that change can be difficult. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle. However, understanding the Stages of Change Model can help you implement lasting change in your life.

The Stages of Change Model explains the science behind personal transformation. You’ll discover how and why some changes stick, while others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What Is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone[2] about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

Stages of change model for smokers

    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that people can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[3]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

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    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How Are These Stages Relevant to Changing Habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[4]

    Stages of change wheel

      Let’s look at the six stages of change, together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice.

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      In the precontemplation stage

      , an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may be because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      In the contemplation stage, the individual starts to consider the pros and cons of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time—possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

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      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.”)[5].

      Stage 3: Preparation

      People in this stage start to put a plan in place to move away from the status quo

      . This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enroll in a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      At this point in the Stages of Change Model, the individual must put their step-by-step plan into action. This stage typically lasts for several months and involves many small steps. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all!

      You can learn how to take action on your goals in this article.

      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes in the long term, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months—perhaps a year or longer—may enter the final stage.

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      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort.

      To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette, even a year or more after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How Long Does Each Stage Take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from contemplation to maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      If you need to make changes quickly, and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      Limitations of the Stages of Change Model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

      Require the Ability to Set a Realistic Goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing where you are in the process—you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages—you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

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      Difficult to Judge Your Progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7]

      For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but really aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the action stage yet aren’t seeing results.

      Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there are some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit.

      More Tips on Changing Habits

      Featured photo credit: Ian Parker via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Simon Kneebone: Tobacco and Mental Illness Project
      [3] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [4] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on October 7, 2021

      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

      “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

      Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

      “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

      Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

      Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

      “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

      This is my mantra:

      I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

      But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

      Addiction to Productivity is Real

      Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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      “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

      Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

      “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

      Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

      “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

      “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

      “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

      There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

      Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

      By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

      Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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      Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

      Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

      Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

      The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

      Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

      • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
      • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
      • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
      • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
      • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
      • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
      • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

      The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

      Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

      Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

      1. Set Limits

      Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

      For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

      2. Create a Not-to-Do List

      Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

      3. Be Vulnerable

      By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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      4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

      Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

      Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

      There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

      5. Don’t Be a Copycat

      Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

      That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

      6. Say Yes to Less

      Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

      That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

      Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

      7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

      “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

      “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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      • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
      • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
      • Establish realistic goals.
      • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
      • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
      • Hold yourself accountable.
      • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
      • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

      8. Simplify

      Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

      The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

      9. Learn How to Relax

      “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

      “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

      “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

      But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

      • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
      • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
      • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
      • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
      • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
      • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
      • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
      • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
      • Visit a massage therapist.
      • Just breathe.

      “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

      It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

      Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

      Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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      Reference

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