5 Stages of Change

Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon


“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Growth and change are something so easy to talk about, but hard to put into practice. Change can happen quickly; we can change most things about our lives within a day, like where we live, who we talk to, what we wear, what we eat, and our daily routine. The tough part about quick changes is the consequences of them. If I am a meat and dairy eater one day, and then the next day, I decide I want to become a vegan, there are consequences to this change. Our body is not going to like the change, you will not feel well, and you may not know the things to buy, how to cook the new meals, or get enough nutrients. It is likely, that if we make a big change, quickly, we will not be able to sustain the change we make. If you do want to make a sustainable change, you will have to take many steps to ensure that it slowly becomes a part of your habits. This is where we can incorporate growth into change because with change, growth can occur, if we take the appropriate steps! 

The five stages of change are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Change begins with pre-contemplation! This stage is where the person does not think they can make a change, and they may be unaware a change needs to happen. In this stage, the person cannot or does not acknowledge the pros of making a change, while they overestimate the cons of change. Some examples of pre-contemplation are: “I don’t want to be told what changes I need to make.” “I can’t change even if I want to.” “I don’t see a benefit to making a change.” These thoughts are not focused on change at all! 

Next is the contemplation stage. This is where we start thinking about making a change, usually within the next six months. Contemplation is when there is a consideration that a change could be positive, so pros and cons are usually equal. Since pros and cons are equal, change is still a little ways away, and we can put off taking the action(s) to make the change. Some examples of contemplation are: “I am noticing people who have made this change feel better.” “I think I might be happier if I make this change.” The thoughts during this stage are getting closer to making a change, but we are not ready to make a change yet!

Preparation is the next stage of change. When we get to the preparation phase, we are ready to make a change within the next 30 days. People start to make small changes to help them make a big change. Let’s say you are wanting to make a change to your diet. During this stage, you will be looking up recipes, maybe asking others how they made the change, and overall planning how you are going to implement a new diet. During this stage, some concerns can arise, such as: “If I try, will I fail?” Planning and preparing is an important part of change and can lessen those concerns overall. 

Those who are in the action stage of change are taking the plans/preparation they did in the previous stage and putting it to action! During this stage, there is a lot of practice and discipline to make the change we planned. It is important in this stage to fight the urge to continue with the old patterns of behavior. People work to do this in many different ways, such as avoiding triggers, leaning on others for support and accountability, and rewards for working through the growing pains of change. It can feel so easy to go back to old habits when making a change, they are habits for a reason. Reminding ourselves of why we want to make the change and the benefits of making the change can also help us get through the action stage. 

The last stage of change is maintenance. This is when the change you have made has been a consistent change for 6 months. In this stage, the change becomes easier to maintain because it has shifted into a habit. It is important to continue to be aware of possible triggers and stressors that could affect the maintenance of this change. Even though it is a habit, it continues to be important to have a plan on how to continue the changes made. 

Making changes in our lives can be a difficult, long process. Over the course of making a change, there are always challenges and struggles. This also helps us grow and build resiliency when we are able to continue to move forward with making the changes we want to make. As humans, change is something that is really hard to make, especially when we find comfort in the ways we do things. As said by Napoleon Hill, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” The first step is to decide we want to make the change, and then the work begins. Use your resources and support around you to help you make and maintain the change and growth you want to see in your life! 


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