Stages of Change

It is a New Year and many people think about making changes in habits and behaviors. Many people start the New Year with resolutions and good intentions to stop smoking, lose weight, drink less alcohol, improve their family relationships, and decrease the stress in their lives. Yet, the majority of those people might start these changes but then get off track and go back to their usual ways of doing things.

Changing behaviors and developing healthy habits do not happen overnight. Consistent and life-long changes can be difficult to make and do take time. People pass through various stages during the journey of change. These behavior stages can be described as follows:

Congratulate yourself on the small changes you have made and have belief in yourself that you will be successful!

Many people will rotate through these various stages of change before the new habits become permanently established. Remember, changing behaviors, including those that will lead to healthy weight loss is a process and a journey. The changes need to have benefit for you and you need to be invested in the process. Be patient with yourself.

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplaiton
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse

Precontemplation is when you have no intention of changing your behavior. Often, you may even be unaware that you have a behavior that needs to be changed! Others may suggest or even pressure you to make change but you do not see the need to do so. For example, you are carrying an extra 40 pounds.  Your spouse wants you to lose weight. You maintain that you “feel fine and are happy the way I am…” and “I do not need to lose weight.”

Contemplation is when you are aware of a behavior that would benefit by change and you are seriously thinking about making that change. However, you are not yet ready to take the steps to do so. For example, you are overweight by 30 pounds and may have even developed some medical problems related to that extra weight (diabetes type 2 or high blood pressure). You know you should eat less and exercise more but it is such a “hassle to change” and “I like to eat what I want to and when I want to.”

Preparation is when you are ready to make a change and begin to do so in small steps. For example, you begin to take the stairs instead of the elevator. You drink one pop each day instead of three. You are testing the waters so to speak and intend to take more serious action in the near future.

Action is when you now make the commitment to change and begin to do so. For example, you make and keep the appointment with your doctor to discuss weight management. You begin to follow a healthy eating plan. You are increasing your activity each day. You begin to lose weight!

Maintenance is when you have incorporated the new behavior into your day to day life for the long-term. Thus, you have developed a new habit that helps you to meet your goals. For example, you are walking three miles a day five days a week and have done this for one year. You have now lost 20 pounds!

Relapse is when you “fall off of the wagon.” Of course no one is perfect and it is easy to slip back into old habits. You can become discouraged and give up. You run the risk of regaining your lost weight.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you wish to make a change?
  • Are you prepared to make a change?
  • How will you know when it is time to make a change?
  • What will motivate you to change?
  • What are your barriers to change?
  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What is working for you right now?
  • What is not working for you at this time?
  • What are the advantages to you of reaching your goal?
  • What are the advantages to you of NOT making any change?
  • What will motivate you to stay on track?
  • How will you handle any relapse?

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight."