Behavior Change - September 2021

Stages of Change Model

(James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente)

Stage 1: Precontemplation


  • Denial
  • Ignorance of the problem


  • Rethink your behavior
  • Analyze yourself and your actions
  • Assess risks of current behavior

The earliest stage of change is known as precontemplation. During the precontemplation stage, people are not considering a change. People in this stage are often described as "in denial," because they claim that their behavior is not a problem. In some cases, people in this stage do not understand that their behavior is damaging, or they are under-informed about the consequences of their actions.

If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to your current state or believe that you have no control over your behavior.

If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past? How do you recognize that you have a problem? What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem?

Stage 2: Contemplation


  • Ambivalence
  • Conflicted emotions


  • Weigh pros and cons of behavior change
  • Confirm readiness and ability to change
  • Identify barriers to change

During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing. Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years. Many people never make it past the contemplation phase.

You may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits. If you are contemplating a behavior change, there are some important questions to ask yourself: Why do you want to change? Is there anything preventing you from changing? What are some things that could help you make this change?

Stage 3: Preparation


  • Experimenting with small changes
  • Collecting information about change


  • Write down your goals
  • Prepare a plan of action
  • Make a list of motivating statements

During the preparation stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods. If your goal is to quit smoking, you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books.

If you are in the preparation stage, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of successfully making a lasting life change. Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behavior. Prepare a list of motivating statements. Write down your goals. Find resources such as support groups, counselors, or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.

Stage 4: Action


  • Direct action toward a goal


  • Reward your successes
  • Seek out social support

During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time. For example, many people make a New Year's resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, embark on a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.

If you are currently taking action towards achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take. Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change.

Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.

Stage 5: Maintenance


  • Maintenance of the new behavior
  • Avoiding temptation


  • Develop coping strategies for temptation
  • Remember to reward yourself

The maintenance phase of the Stages of Change model involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up new behaviors. If you are trying to maintain a new behavior, look for ways to avoid temptation. Try replacing old habits with more positive actions. Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse.

If you do falter, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was just a minor setback. As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.

During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue their change.

Stage 6: Relapse


  • Disappointment
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of failure


  • Identify triggers that lead to relapse
  • Recognize barriers to success
  • Reaffirm your goal and commitment to change

In any behavior change, relapses are a common occurrence. When you go through a relapse, you might experience feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration. The key to success is to not let these setbacks undermine your self-confidence. If you lapse back to an old behavior, take a hard look at why it happened. What triggered the relapse? What can you do to avoid these triggers in the future?

While relapses can be difficult, the best solution is to start again with the preparation, action, or maintenance stages of behavior change.

You might want to reassess your resources and techniques. Reaffirm your motivation, plan of action, and commitment to your goals. Also, make plans for how you will deal with any future temptations. Resolutions fail when the proper preparation and actions are not taken. By approaching a goal with an understanding of how to best prepare, act, and maintain a new behavior, you will be more likely to succeed.