How do humans change?

The stages of change from

The stages of change from

I’ve been reading this great book, Changing for Good, by Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente. Its subtitle is “A revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward.” Now doesn’t that sound good?!? Or maybe in some ways it sounds too good to be true?  I mean, most of us have tried all kinds of things to change our weight, our diet, our habits (smoking, drinking, biting nails, thinking negative thoughts – anything!). And the idea of a six-stage program that can help us do it? That would be pretty great, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that the program isn’t “easy” – there’s no magic bullet here. But it is a solid plan that has helped many people before and will help many more. If you want to change anything at all, to support others who are changing, or even just to understand change, this book is worth your time!

Here’s what Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente did: they studied lots and lots people who tried to quit smoking on their own, and figured out which tactics worked and which tactics didn’t. But they realized that wasn’t enough. They figured out that it wasn’t just the tactics that worked or didn’t, it was when the tactic was used that decided whether it helped or not! Through lots of research they developed a model that shows us the six stages we naturally go through when making a change AND what helps in each stage! The trick to this program is to figure out what stage you’re in and then to choose actions based on your stage – do what will be most efficient for you at that moment! So, it doesn’t save you from having to do the work, but it does help you figure out what work will be best!

So, what are these 6 stages?  Here they are!

Precontemplation: Precontemplation is when we don’t think there’s a problem. We think that other people need to change, not us. Chances are good that we are in denial.

Contemplation: In contemplation we acknowledge that we have a problem, but we aren’t sure how to make change happen. We might feel stuck. We spend time trying to understand the problem, its causes, and possible solutions. Although contemplation usually takes many months, it is also possible to get “stuck” in contemplation. If you’ve been contemplating the same change for a very long time, maybe it is time to contact us for a partner in change.

Preparation: In preparation we’ve decided that we want to change, but we’re still working out the details. We plan to take action within the next month, and we might be doing things like making our intention to change public. Spending time in preparation is a huge indicator of success – if we spend some time planning what we’ll do when we’re faced with temptation and practicing, we’ll be ready when we run into the inevitable bumps in the road of action!

Action: We’re actually making the change! We’re excited and probably scared, but if we’ve gone through pre-contemplation, contemplation, and preparation, we have a lot of tools in our arsenal to help us actually make the change. Even though action is where all of us want to be, estimates are that less than 20% of a problem population is prepared for change at any given period of time. So, don’t beat yourself up for not being in action now, just figure out where you are and work from there!

Maintenance: In maintenance we’ve made the change and now we’re trying to keep it going.  The excitement has worn off, and the support from others has probably decreased. And those are just two of the reasons this stage is difficult. Have you ever lost weight only to gain it back later? Maintenance is a tough part. There are change techniques that can help!

Termination: Termination means that the thing we wanted to change is truly no longer a problem for us – we’re not tempted to go back. A lot of people never reach termination – they just stay in maintenance for the rest of their life. If that’s you, that’s ok, you’re not alone!

There’s also Recycling, which is relapsing, except that we take the relapse as a moment to help us learn and try again. So if you’ve relapsed, don’t beat yourself up! This is an opportunity to try again, with more knowledge! In fact, it is very rare for anyone to go through the six stages in order – we usually recycle back to an earlier stage repeatedly. That’s ok. That makes us normal! Just be sure to learn from recycling!

That’s a lot of information and it still doesn’t begin to cover what Changing for Good has to offer! If you’ve been trying to change but not getting anywhere, it is highly likely that the change techniques you’re using don’t match your stage of change. Maybe you’re in contemplation but trying to jump straight to action. Maybe you feel like someone else is forcing you to change (but you’re not actually ready). No matter why you’re having trouble changing, Changing for Good has ideas for you, and I highly recommend it!

The book also mentions the importance of helping relationships in making a change. Helping relationships can be supportive friends or family, but helping relationships can also include professionals. If you’d like a partner in making change, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378! Risa Bos would be happy to help you give up alcohol, stop smoking, or other Orlando addictions counseling. Kelli Skorman is a great choice for eating disorders or weight loss. Cindy Fabico offers Orlando life coaching. And all of our counselors can help you change negative thoughts! It is possible for you to reach your goals to make change! Give us a call to begin your journey!

Yours on the circuitous journey to make lasting change, Krista Bringley