The Stages of Change is a model that was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. This model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behavior. It’s important to note that change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
People in the precontemplation stage of change aren’t even thinking about changing. They don’t see that there is a problem to begin with. Dr. DiClemente referred to the reasons to be in precontemplation as the “Four Rs”.
- Reluctant precontemplators: Those that lack the knowledge or desire to even want to consider change. The impact of the problem hasn’t become fully conscious.
- Rebellious precontemplators: Those that have a heavy investment in continuing the behavior and in making their own decisions. They do not want to be told what to do.
- Resigned precontemplators: Those that have given up hope about a possibility of change and the problem seems too overwhelming. These individuals have made many attempts to change.
- Rationalizating precontemplators: Those that have all the answers and lots of reasons to continue the behavior. The behavior is a problem for others but not them.
Stage 2: Contemplation
People in this stage are willing to consider the possibility of changing the behavior. Those in this stage are highly ambivalent. They are often interested in learning about how to change their behavior and have reasons for changing their behavior but still can’t make a decision to change. These people often tell themselves and others that “someday I’ll change”.
Stage 3: Preparation
Those in this stage make the decision to change/stop the behavior. In this stage the person is making the plans to change. Not all ambivalence is resolved yet but it’s no longer a huge barrier to change. In this stage, people will make a serious attempt to change in the near future.
Stage 4: Action
People in this stage of change put their plan into action. This stage often includes some form of public commitment to change the behavior in order to get external confirmation of the plan. The person may avoid previous triggers, reach out for help, or take other steps to avoid temptation. This stage normally takes three to six months to complete.
Stage 5: Maintenance
In this stage, a person is able to maintain their changed behavior over a sustained period of time. The real test of change is long-term sustained change over many years. In this stage a person is building new patterns of behavior that continue on its own momentum with little outside intervention.
Stage 6: Relapse
In any behavior change, relapses are a common occurrence. The key to success is to not let these setbacks undermine your self-confidence. If you lapse back into old behaviors, ask yourself why it happened. Sometimes people begin to relax their guard and they think that they have control over it. It is not uncommon to relapse and go through the Stages of Change several times. But slips give people the chance to learn and grow.