Change is not easy

Learning about the stages of change can help you make important life changes.

We all have concerns or bad habits in our lives that could use some sprucing up or renovation. One of the first steps when you are considering making a change is to look at the areas of your life that you consider problematic.

“Take stock” of your current situation. Do you want to lose weight? Do you and your partner use a different set of rules when applying discipline? Are you using a budget and living within your means? Are you happy with your current work/life balance? Are you thinking about starting an exercise plan or general health improvements? Is your relationship unhealthy?

Change is never easy and can seem to threaten the way we think about ourselves and how we feel. Changes in behavior don’t take place in one step. Personal change takes place in stages over a period of time and learning about the “stages of change” can help you succeed in making important changes in your life. Change rarely follows a linear progression through the stages. More often people regress or go backward before they move toward their change for good.

In the book “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente, the authors describe six major stages of change.

  1. Pre-contemplation. In this stage, you may not even be aware that a problem exists or that a change should be made in your life. People in this stage don’t want to make any change to their habits and don’t recognize they have a problem. If you are in this stage, you are not optimistic about your ability to make change. This stage is often referred to as “denial.”
  2. Contemplation. In the contemplation stage, you have gained some knowledge about a different or new behavior. You are more aware of the need for change and are open to exploring how to make a change. In this stage, you begin to weigh the costs and benefits of a major change in your life; you are contemplating whether it’s worth it. Some people are in this stage for long periods of time. “I’ve learned about the problems connected to being overweight firsthand and think that I might need to do something about my weight.”
  3. Preparation. When you are preparing for a change, you are now ready to commit to make the change and have worked to gain the skills you need to sustain a change. People in the preparation stage have a start date for the change.
  4. Action. If you are in this stage, you are ready to “take the plunge” and actually change your behavior. The action stage is the actual process of changing your lifestyle. You are at risk of relapse in this stage, so it’s important to have support and tools in place to keep you motivated. Smokers in this stage have discussed the pros and cons with a knowledgeable person and made plans for their path to a smoke-free life (set a quit date, have supplies in place, enlisted medical assistance and have enlisted a support network).
  5. Maintenance. This stage is when you have made the change and are working to sustain the change and enjoy the rewards that comes with the change. In this stage, you are living your change and it has become a new way of life. Maintenance is on-going and can be a long process. Programs that promise a “quick fix” can set you up for failure. Sustained change requires dedication to the effort.
  6. Termination. The final stage of change is our ultimate goal, such as weight maintenance, smoke-free, healthy relationship or family cohesiveness. In this stage, your persistence pays off and you have made a change for good.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that change is not easy; real change requires education, patience, persistence and support. People often bounce back and forth between contemplation, preparation and action stages. Consider people who have tried multiple diets over the course of many years. Take baby steps; make small changes and set your own pace as you work through the stages of change in your life.

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you and your family, visit the MSU Extension website.