Making and sustaining healthy behavior change can be challenging as behavior change is a complex process. One of the reasons for this challenge is that we fail to recognize which stage of change we are in. According to the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), behavior change happens in five stages. Recognizing which stage we are in can help us apply the correct tools to move up to the next stage. Keep in mind these stages are not always linear and we may fall back to a previous stage at any given time. Assess your stage of change below and try out the tools to support you in moving forward to the next stage! And remember, while mastering a new habit is the end goal, moving up from one stage to the next is a celebration!
Stage 1: Precontemplation
I am not ready to change. I have no intention of taking action in the next 6 months.
How you might think or feel or act: I don’t know how to change. I feel demoralized because I have failed so much in the past. I feel defensive. I turn inward and withdraw, go silent or tune-out anytime loved ones ask me to change. I internalize and blame myself that I can’t do anything right. I turn outward and blame others or take my distress out on others. I rationalize or intellectualize my behavior to others.
Usually at this stage, you identify more “cons” than “pros” for changing. Think about benefits for changing.
Increase your consciousness by learning the facts about your unhealthy habit.
Work on releasing difficult emotions to get emotional relief by doing activities such as journaling or talking to others or engaging in relaxation techniques.
Notice the effect of your unhealthy behavior on others.
Stage 2: Contemplation
I intend to take action in the next 6 months.
How you might think, feel or act: You may wonder if change is really worth it. You may be searching for certainty before taking action. You delay doing anything about change.
Stage 3: Preparation
I intend to take action in the next month.
How you might think, feel or act: You may be feeling excited or hopeful about making change. You may be worrying about failing.
Think about the current you who engages in the habit you want to change and envision who you want to be when you have changed your behavior.
Make a commitment to change; you might tell others about your intentions.
Create an action plan with realistic goals.
Believe that change is possible. In fact, research in neuroplasticity proves that change is possible!
Stage 4: Action
I am currently taking action. I have been taking action for more than 6 months.
How you might think, feel or act: You have made specific steps and may have removed a high risk behavior (e.g., smoking, excess drinking, lack of exercise, etc.)
Continue working on your new habits as well as thought patterns to counteract long ingrained unhealthy habits.
Reinforce your progress through self-reinforcement such as positive self-talk.
Seek out social supports from family and friends.
Connect with positive social networks that support your growth rather than hold you back.
Focus on changing your environment to reduce triggers (i.e., reduce stimulus control for the unhealthy behavior) and build in cues to trigger healthy habits.
Stage 5: Maintenance
I have been taking action for more than 6 months.
How you might think, feel or act: You may be feeling confident and your new behavior may now feel like a habit.
Distress or upsetting life situations can throw you off and back into harmful health habits as a way of coping. Be aware of relapse and have a tool-belt of healthy coping techniques to get through life's stressors.
Be conscious of environmental triggers for old habits.
Understand that relapse may happen and use this as an opportunity for “learning."
Reference: Prochaska, J.O. & Prochaska, J.M. (2016). Changing to thrive. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Photo by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash