6 Stages of Change: Obstacles and Action Steps
The world today provides many opportunities for instant gratification, but Change is something that is never instantaneous. Breaking and forming new habits is rarely an easy task and does not happen overnight. Change is a process that happens over time and today I want to provide an overview of six stages of change.
The six stages I will be discussing are as follows: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, and Relapse.
I was first introduced to these stage through Motivational Interviewing, which focuses on helping others discover internal motivations for change. These six stages can assist with identifying your level of motivation for change. Each stage presents unique obstacles to overcome and can assist you with determining appropriate goals based on the stage you are in.
Precomtemplation is the stage of change where someone has no interest in change. The reason for this can be two-fold. The first reason is that the person believes there is no need for change. They are content with their life and have no desire for it to be different. The second reason is because the person may believe that change is impossible. This may be someone who is struggling with despair or hopelessness.
Potential Obstacle: No motivation. Sometimes we make the mistake of believing we can make others change, but ultimately the decisions will be theirs to make. You may recognize a need for change in someone else’s life, but no matter how much tools or knowledge provided, it won’t make a difference. They need to make the choice for themselves.
Action steps: For the first person who is content with their life, it may be helpful to provide information about why change may be beneficial. For the second person who may be in despair, it may be helpful to lovingly challenge their thought process. Encourage them to hold on to hope and help them find resources to overcome identified obstacles.
Contemplation is where someone is considering making a change, but they are not yet convinced. This is the type of person who make statements such as “ I might stop smoking someday” or “I could do devotions more often.” In this stage the person has identified a need for change, but had made no commitment to implement change.
Potential Obstacle: The time is never now. Talking about making change doesn’t make a difference unless the action follows. Change rarely happens spontaneously. It’s basic physics. A object doesn’t move unless an outside force pushes it. Same principle applies to our behavior. The commitment must be made.
Action steps: Write out a pros and cons list. What are the potential benefits to making the identified change? Are there any benefits to continuing with the current behavior? What are the long-term consequences?
The stage of preparation is when the person has made the commitment to initiate change. It is now time to create a plan for change. This stage can be crucial for long-term success if utilized well. Sometimes when we make change without any preparation, the plans can fall through. Someone may quite after being faced with one obstacle, so plan ahead.
Potential obstacle: Perfectionism. There is such a thing as too much planning. I have made the mistake before of waiting for the “perfect” plan before proceeding. Sometimes we need to just jump in and test the waters.
Actions steps: Identify someone who can help keep you accountable. Share your plan with them and have them check-up on you to see if you followed through on it. Set a start date and use SMART goals to establish Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive goals.
The previous stages where leading up to the Action stage. A need for change has been identified, the motivation has been discovered, and the plan has been established. It is now time to put the plan into action.
Potential Obstacle: The unexpected. No matter how much we plan ahead sometimes things just don’t work out the way we intended. However, don’t despair because failure is actually part of the process.
Action step: Do the things you said you would do. Simple.
This is the stage that can often be overlooked. The action stage is understandably important, however if the desire is for long-lasting change, then the action plan needs to be maintained. This is why we need to set SMART goals. Goals that can be maintained long-term. It may also require us to re-evaluate and modify our goals as needed.
Potential Obstacle: Loss of interest over time. A prime example is the longevity of New Year’s Resolutions. As creatures of habits, we can resort to old habits amid the chaos and stress of life. It happens to the best of us.
Action steps: Accountability from friends and family may include you provide daily or weekly updates. Re-evaluate and adjust your plan as needed.
I wanted to include the stage of relapse because sometimes we don’t get it right the first time. It is a normal part of the process. Recall how I mentioned to not despair when the unexpected happens during the action stage. The reason is because being faced with an obstacle or barrier does not mean you need to give up on the goal altogether. Rather it is an opportunity to learn what to do differently the next time.
Change is not instantaneous. It is a process and nobody gets it right the first time. Change can be scary and overwhelming because it comes with the unexpected. Do not despair because at the end of the day God who “began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)
References and External Resources
Miller, William R. and Rollnick, Stephen. Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (2013) The Guildford Press. New York, NY.
SMART Goals: How to Make Your Goals Achievable from Mind Tools
The Six Stages of Behavior Change from VeryWell Mind