Understanding the 5 Stages of Change to Achieve Your Goals
An annoying cliche my dad used to tell me was that "something has to change for something to change." In my head, I would say, "Duh, Dad," but in my day-to-day life, I would continue the same approach to life and make the same choices while wishing my circumstances were different. Change is a crucial part of growth and achieving our goals. Change can be intimidating, whether losing weight, quitting a bad habit, or starting a new job. But understanding the stages of change can make the process less overwhelming and more manageable.
Change is a Cycle
The concept of the five stages of change was introduced by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in 1983. According to their theory, change is not a linear process but rather a cycle that individuals go through in their journey toward achieving their goals.
- The first stage, precontemplation, is a passive state of change. In this stage, people do not feel a need for change. They might not be aware of the issue or its potential consequences. So, like myself, they are not actively seeking change and are resistant to any suggestions.
- The second change, contemplation, is where we can start to see a person move toward wanting to change. During this stage, people begin to warm up to the idea that change is needed. They might start looking at the pros and cons of making a change, exploring different options or methods, or enacting such change. They might also seek advice and support from people within their community or reach out to a professional who has shown they are capable of helping them create the desired change.
- It is usually not until the third stage that we will see a person taking steps to initiate a change in their life. This stage is called preparation. In this stage, people start to take small steps toward making a change. They might join a gym, purchase nicotine patches, or attend therapy sessions. (which is helpful regardless of the change you are trying to make. They have become more committed to change, and their motivation is high.
- During the fourth stage, the action stage, individuals actively make changes to achieve their goals. They might be attending regular workout sessions, quitting smoking, or exploring job opportunities. This stage requires a lot of effort and persistence.
- Once a person has initiated and practiced the change for about six months (not perfectly, but consistently making an effort to change), they will be in a place to achieve the fifth stage of change; maintenance. Once the change has been executed, the maintenance stage comes in. During this time, individuals strive to uphold the transition and avoid relapses. They might seek ongoing support, adjust their habits and routines, and celebrate their progress.
It's important to note that only some people go through these stages in the same order or timeframe. Individuals might also experience setbacks and relapses before reaching the maintenance stage. The key is to remain committed, positive, and self-aware throughout the process. Being aware and better understanding the stages of change can help you tackle any goal more systematically. Knowing that it will take time, patience, and support to maneuver through these different stages can provide a foundation to build on and prevent burnout.
Whether it's to quit smoking, lose weight, or start a business, acknowledging where you are in the cycle is an essential step toward achieving success. I believe that change is never easy, but with patience and perseverance, anything is possible. You can change your story. Learn more about my approach to counseling and behavior change here, request an appointment with me, or learn more about our practice at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.
About Calvin Burns
Calvin Burns, MA, LPC, LCDC-I, earned his BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University and earned his Master's in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary. He specializes in disordered eating, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, parenting support, adolescents/emerging adults, and couples counseling. He brings unwavering hope to his clients, and firmly believes that people can change and their stories can be rewritten. He sees adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.Meet Me