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Last Updated on November 3, 2020

How the Stages of Change Model Helps to Change Your Habits

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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      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on March 23, 2021

      Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

      Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

      One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

      The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

      You need more than time management. You need energy management

      1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

      How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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      I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

      I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

      2. Determine your “peak hours”

      Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

      Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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      My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

      In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

      Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

      3. Block those high-energy hours

      Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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      Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

      If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

      That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

      There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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      Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

      Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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