Imagine if you were suddenly stripped of the ability to change your behaviors. In this new world, you never switch your outlook or the things that you do. You continue to make the same mistakes over and over, regardless of how terribly your actions affect you and others. The world would be an even more chaotic place if we couldn’t change our negative behaviors. Fortunately, we have the capacity to change.
In a 1982 study involving smoking cessation, psychologists Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska identified five stages of behavioral change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
Pre-contemplation: In this stage, we either don’t seriously consider changing our behaviors or we never give it a thought. We are highly resistant to changing our habits and don’t want to acknowledge that we have a problem. During this phase, someone — such as a family member or friend — will usually have already pointed out our issues to us. But we don’t want to hear it. Typically, it takes a serious life-changing event to get us to consider changing when we’re in this stage.
Contemplation: We’re pondering the impact changing will have on our life and we’re wondering if it’s worth it to change. For example, a drug addict or cheating spouse might consider changing because they want to regain their family’s trust. It’s easy to get stuck in contemplation mode, constantly thinking about doing it but never following through.
Preparation: We start preparing ourselves for real change by doing something to trigger the process. We might, for example, enroll at a gym to lose weight or discard our last pack of cigarettes to quit smoking.
Action: We begin to make the change. For example, we’ve started exercising at the gym or have begun distancing ourselves from unsavory people. Because our old habits are still fresh in our minds, we’re at the greatest risk of relapse in this stage (a determined mindset is vital here).
Maintenance: We continue to abstain from the things we decided not to do. We’re at a high risk of relapse at this stage because we believe that since we’ve reached this far, we’ll automatically stay that way. But to maintain the change we must keep reconditioning our minds.
Change starts in the mind. Once we’ve set our minds to do something, we then transfer our thoughts into behaviors which reflect that thinking. Therefore, to change our behavior, we must alter the way we think. And to stay consistent with the change, we have to keep training our minds.
It’s important that we change for ourselves and not just for others. Whether we’re doing it to obtain a better career, a happier relationship, a healthier lifestyle, or more money, change is most successful when our desire for change is sincere.