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Last Updated on August 20, 2018

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas 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 about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    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.

    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:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may 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.

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      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

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages 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.

      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

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on 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

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. 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! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, 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 Stage 6.

      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 so 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.

      So 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.

      The limitations of this 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.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – 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]

      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 in actual fact 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’re 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 or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1]Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2]Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3]Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4]Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (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 January 9, 2019

      7 Signs You’re Ready to Change Your Life (And What to Do Next)

      7 Signs You’re Ready to Change Your Life (And What to Do Next)

      Changing your life can be both scary and exciting, but more than anything it’s necessary to grow. Most people come to a point one day where they have to make a change in their life to either grow personally or professionally, but it’s hard to figure out when you’re ready to make that change.

      So how do you know when it’s time that you’re ready to change your life?

      The truth is there is at least one sign in front of you that you have been ignoring or not even noticing. This article will take you through 7 signs that shows you that you’re ready to take that next step.

      1. Your Motivation Is Gone

      Humans all have something that makes them tick. A goal that makes them wake up at 5am even though they would love to sleep in late. A drive that makes them decline social events, because their jobs need them to stay all night, or maybe it’s the opposite and you attend social events to please the ones close to you.

      It comes from your motivation to succeed either professionally or personally, but once the drive is missing, then you can’t keep going and you will lose your motivation.

      If you suddenly can’t find that drive inside you once had, then it can be a sign. It can be your needs or wants that have changed. The important thing is that if you don’t feel the same motivation any longer, then it’s time to do something about it.

      We’ve been taught to keep going even when it gets tough, but it’s okay to change and redefine yourself. It’s not about giving up. It’s about stopping up and revaluate whether you still want the same things in life.

      Sometimes you may find out you still want the same time, but the way you’re going about it isn’t working for you.

      Chris Sacca, an American venture investor, and entrepreneur, bought a cabin in Tahoe’s less-expensive neighbour and moved to the prime skiing and hiking country when he felt his motivation sliding away. He still had the same goals, but described a need for a change in his life to get back the right mind-set:[1]

      ”I wanted to have the time to focus, to learn the things I wanted to learn, to build what I wanted to build, and to really invest in relationships that I wanted to grow, rather than just doing a day of coffee after coffee after coffee.”

      If you still want the same things, then do what Chris Sacca did and change your daily routine. If you want new things, then maybe it’s time to quit your job, or make a change in your personal life.

      It doesn’t mean that you have failed. It simply means you are ready to focus on what matters: You.

      Find your passion and motivation back to live a better life with these tips:

      Want to Know What Truly Motivates You, and How to Always Stay Motivated?

      2. You’re Unhappy at Least Once a Day Every Day

      We tend to ignore unhappiness because it’s normal to get upset or feel a bit down. It’s true. It is normal, but if you feel unhappy every day and usually without even knowing exactly why – it’s a sign.

      A task, a job or a relationship can be both giving and draining — most often both. While we have to accept a certain struggle, we don’t have to accept being unhappy.

      Here’s a little test you can do easily:

      Take a look at what you do every day, and take a look at the things you have assigned yourself. How many of these things do you do for yourself? And how many do you do to please someone else?

      Once and a while, we need to take a step back and look at our to-do list. Are you dealing with a to-do list of others, or your own to-do list? There is a difference.

      This can easily be misunderstood, but you need to remember it’s not about being selfish or lazy. If you’re unhappy on a daily basis, then you can’t make other people happy in the long run either.

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      If you’re unhappy every day, then it’s time to recognize it as a sign that you’re doing something wrong in your life when it comes to your own happiness. It might have seemed right before, but it’s clearly not doing you any good anymore. You’re ready for a change.

      You can learn how to be happy again from this article:

      How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

      3. The People Around You Are Changing

      The grass is far from always greener on the other side of the street (at least most of the time), and while we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the people around us on a daily basis, it’s okay to take a look once a while.

      The people you surround yourself with often reflect back on yourself. If you’re going through a phase where most of your friends have been going out all the time, and then they suddenly start to focus on work and family, it might be a sign.

      This by no means imply you should change your life if you’re still feeling fulfilled and good about it. But if you turn your head and start noticing a change around you and it makes you rethink things, it’s probably a sign of you being ready to change as well.

      4. You’re Bored

      A healthy life shouldn’t be all fun and games, but if you’re starting to feel bored on a daily basis, then it could be a sign. There’s a difference between waking up on a Sunday and not knowing what to do, and waking up every day and feel bored.

      Maybe you don’t feel challenged in your job any longer, or your normal idea of fun is no longer giving you the enjoyment it once did before.

      Take the time to check with yourself. Are you just bored? Or do you need something more in your life?

      Humans are run by habits and routines, which makes it tough to change them. It also makes us stay in bad situations much longer than needed.

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      It’s always hard in the beginning but you can do it! Take a leap of faith and change your life.

      5. You’re Stressed

      Stress is probably one of the most common signs that you’re in need of a change, but it can also be one of the signs that can be the hardest to react upon. Because when you’re stressed, you automatically feel anxious about making a change.

      It can be hard to deal with stress, but luckily there are many different types of solutions to deal with it. It often comes down to trying different ways and figuring out what works for you.

      Tim Ferriss notices that:[2]

      “More than 80% of the world-class performers I’ve interviewed have some form of daily mediation or mindfulness practice.”

      Take a look at this to find what’s best for you to relieve stress:

      The Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress

      But sometimes all you need to do is to figure out what is stressing you out and whether it’s worth it. If the stress comes down to being a sign, then you need to accept it and create a change in your life, because you’re clearly ready.

      6. You’re Scared

      Everybody lives with fears. They’re afraid of losing someone. They’re afraid of losing their job. They’re afraid of making the wrong decisions. They’re afraid of a lot of things because life is pretty scary.

      The trick is to recognize whether the fear drives you or brings you down. It’s okay to be scared, but it’s not okay to live in constant fear.

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      If you’re scared about a specific thing or just feel anxious on a daily basis, it’s time to get a better understanding of where it comes from and also see it as a sign.

      When you’re already scared, it can be tough to consider making a change in your life, but look past the fear and know that you can choose to stay in this state of mind or work through it.

      Try to visualize a future where the fear is no longer present and use it as a tool to make the hard decision now and change your life for the better.

      This guide written by the author of Fight the Fear – How to Beat Your Negative Mindset and Win in Life will help you conquer your fears:

      How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

      7. There’s No Stimulation in Your Life

      Humans need stimulation in their daily lives because we will feel scared, stressed and unhappy at times. If you can tell that you no longer have that stimulation in your life, then it’s a sign that you’re ready for a change.

      What drove you in the past or got your heart pounding faster once might not do the same for you anymore. Before you get to the previous mentioned state of minds, you can get ahead of things and recognize this lack of stimulation as soon as possible as a sign.

      The Bottom Line

      All changes are hard and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but we need to start seeing change as a positive rather than (as we often do at first) a negative. Changing your life can be tough, but it’s worth it.

      Once you decided to change your life it won’t be easy in the beginning. Try to use a phrase Chris Sacca used when he was going through the same:[3]

      ”I had a phrase I kept repeating in my head over and over again, which was, ‘Tonight, I will be in by bed…”

      This will help you remember whatever you’re feeling right now is temporary. But if you don’t find the courage to make a change, then the negative feelings and emotions you’re dealing with won’t be.

      Featured photo credit: Joshua Ness via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1]Tim Ferriss: Tools of Titans, page 165
      [2]Tim Ferriss: Tools of Titans, page 149
      [3]Tim Ferriss: Tools of Titans, Page 167

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