If you’re one of the thousands of people that sign up for a gym membership right after New Year’s, you probably understand just how difficult it is to keep up with it. It’s rarely a straightforward, simple process.
Not only that, but there’s rarely one single solution that works for everyone. Often, we have to experiment with different solutions and strategies to find what works. It’s no wonder we go back to our comfort zone after trying a few different things. It’s exhausting, regardless of how motivated and inspired we may have felt in the beginning.
It may not arrive as quickly as we’d like, but experts have been studying the process of change for years. Why it’s so challenging, how change occurs, and models to guide us through the process. When we understand change, we find ways to work through every stage and achieve our goals.
Stages of Change Model
In the late 1970s, researchers developed the Stages of Change Model to study ways to help people stop smoking. Since then, it’s been found to be one of the most effective aids in understanding how people experience changes in their behaviors.
According to this model, change happens gradually or over time. In the early stages, there’s often something (whether it’s our mindset or hesitancy) that’s holding us back from making a change. Eventually, according to the model, we develop a proactive commitment to change.
This model also does a good job demonstrating that change doesn’t come easily. But with small steps and a gradual progression, we can make our way towards our desired outcome or goal.
Stage 1: Precontemplation
This is the earliest stage of change. Throughout the pre-contemplation stage, people are described as being ‘in denial’ because we don’t necessarily believe that our behavior is a problem. We may be unaware that our behavior is damaging or don’t know enough about potential consequences.
How to know if you’re in this stage?
If you’re in this stage, you may believe that you have little to no control over your behavior. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you tried to change this behavior in the past?
- How do you know that it may be a problem?
- What would have to occur for you to consider it a problem or issue?
Stage 2: Contemplation
During the contemplation stage, we become more aware of the possible benefits of making a change. However, the costs also tend to stand out more. We may feel more ambivalent about making a change, and because of the uncertainty that comes with it, this stage can last a few months or even years. It’s not uncommon to never make it past the contemplation stage.
It may seem like change comes with giving something up or losing something, rather than gaining any physical, mental, or emotional benefits.
If you’re contemplating making a change, ask yourself the following:
- What’s your reasoning for making a change?
- What’s preventing you from making it?
- What are a few solutions that could ultimately help you make this change?
Stage 3: Preparation
During the third stage of preparation, you may start making small, initial changes to prepare yourself for a more enormous, more significant change.
Example: if your goal is to lose weight, you may consider cutting how often you eat fast food. Or, you may choose to listen to a podcast or audiobook on maintaining a healthy diet.
If you’re in this third stage of change, you can do a few things to improve your outcome in making a successful lifelong change. Start by:
- Educating yourself and gathering information about different ways to change your behavior.
- Writing out a few positive affirmations to motivate and inspire you.
- Writing down your goals and keeping them somewhere visible.
- Finding other resources, like coaches, support groups, etc.
Stage 4: Action
Throughout the fourth stage of change, we start making different choices that align with our goals. However, it’s essential to remember that the previous steps need to be thought through properly. Resolutions often fail because the previous steps haven’t been given enough time or consideration.
You’re in the Action stage if you’re consistent with your action plan. If your goal is to lose weight, maybe you meal prep for the upcoming week or complete the first few days of your new workout routine.
If this sounds like you, your efforts are worth celebrating! Positive reinforcement and support play a significant role in your outcome and help you take positive steps towards your goal.
Stage 5: Maintenance
The Maintenance stage includes avoiding the previous behaviors successfully and feeling confident about maintaining the new ones. Typically, people in the maintenance stage have successfully stayed in the Action stage for about six months. With a greater level of confidence and self-awareness, the risk of relapse is much lower than when they first started.
And yet, several things can trigger people in this stage to relapse. Stress, crisis, boredom, a loss of social support, or significant life changes can all be examples. What constitutes a lapse in maintenance depends on your original goal. For someone committing to a new fitness regimen, it may mean missing a few days at the gym.
You know you’re in the Maintenance stage if:
- For the past few months, you’ve been diligent and consistent in performing the new behaviors you committed to.
- They’re starting to feel familiar and a part of your routine.
The thing to keep in mind is that the worst mistake you can make in changing is by giving up on your faith and ability in yourself to make a change.
If obstacles and barriers are standing in your way, use them as opportunities to develop new strengths. Expand your skill set, stay on the maintenance stage, and you’ll reach a point where you can’t imagine going back to the way things were before.
Stage 6: Termination
In the final stage of change, Termination is where the behavior change is fully integrated into our lives. The temptation to revert is wholly gone, and the new action doesn’t feel like something we ‘have to do as part of who we are.
According to the Stages of Change Model developers, only about 15-20% of people make it this far. However, any significant progress towards your overall goal brings real and essential benefits, like confidence, growth, momentum, and knowledge.
Until you reach this final stage, hitting a wall or falling back into a previous stage is normal. As long as you’re aware of what stage you’re in, you’ll have a sense of what you need to do to get back on track, recommit to your goal, and continue moving forward.
How to know if you’re in the Termination stage:
- You’ve been in the Maintenance stage for two or more years
- The changes you made feel almost effortless
- You may have learned how to apply changes in new ways (new goals, other areas of your life)
The Bottom Line
While it’s never easy to make a significant life change and make it stick, these steps can provide structure on your journey. If you feel that you could benefit from additional support, schedule a 1-hour call with me to see how we can achieve your goals. Together, we’ll discuss what your needs are and determine what areas you need to fulfill.