learning the process of change can be the first step in starting one


     Think back to your 2015 New Year’s Resolution. What was it that you wanted for yourself at that time? Perhaps one was to shed those few extra pounds that were put on during the winter holidays? 

With poise and determination, you plunked down the credit card to buy that gym pass ($85 a month, what a steal!), plotted out the times that you would go (obviously before work!), and prepared a delectable meal plan free of extra calories (no more pasta for me!).

Then, something interesting and unexpected happened--New Years came and went and that important change that you were prepared to make. . . well, it changed. A month of gung-ho planning fell by the wayside and that shiny new gym pass started collecting dust. At some point, you may have even ditched the idea altogether. What happened?

A very famous Greek philosopher once said that the only constant in life is change. What he forgot to mention is how the process works or the difficulties that often come along the way. Thousands of years later, research psychologists have an answer to such questions in the development of the "The Stages of Change" model.


When making an important change like losing weight or quitting smoking, research suggests that this is not a categorical, black or white decision. Rather, change is a gradual process that often involves many shades of grey. The Stages of Change is an important way of understanding how this process  works and difficulties that people experience throughout it.

This model involves six stages that people move through when trying to achieve a behavioral goal. What--you ask--is a behavioral goal? Think of a terribly bad habit that you would like to change, or, a good habit you would like to start. Some examples include eating more sensibly, cutting back on gambling or quitting drug & alcohol use.

Recognizing what stage a person is in can help them understand the challenges that they might face in changing their behavior. What follows is a brief description of each of the six Stages of Change and how someone who is trying to quit smoking might experience going through them.


You don't recognize a need to change, feel a desire to change, or even consider the possibility of change. In other words, it's not happening

"Quit smoking? Are you serious! I don’t care how much it costs, what it does to me or what you say--I’m not stopping! Go away!"


You both recognize and desire to make a change, but feel stuck in making it happen. It's the classic angel/devil on your shoulder debate.

"I know that cigarettes are hurting me and I really want to stop. . . seriously I do! I just don’t think I can. I've failed so many times before. And to tell you the truth, I like it. . ."


You’re both interested and motivated to make a change and have begun to prepare for this process.

"I’m ready, I just need some help. There’s always the Patch, but maybe I’ll call my doc first to see what his thoughts are. Maybe I'll hit up Google for some answers."


You’re actively making the change and managing the hurdles that come with it!


"Nicorette gum. . . check. Avoiding coworkers when they go on their smoke break. . . check. Reminding myself twice a day that I’m doing this because I love my family. . . check"


You’re maintaining the change you set out to make for an extended period of time (typically over six months)


"I can't believe I smoked for as long as I did. And I can't believe I've stopped for as long as I have! Has it been 2 years since my last smoke? I'm doing it!"


You experience a minor slip or a major falloff in the behavior change you set out to make. FYI, relapses are a common experience when making a change and the key to success is not letting them undermine what you're doing!


"I was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, in the wrong mindset. Hmmm. . .what the heck did I do wrong? Back to the drawing table.

What makes the Stages of Change model so powerful is that it allows us to see where we're at in the change process. Moreover, with the help of a therapist, it allows us to understand what we need to do in order to overcome the hurdles of the stage that we're in.

Imagine--for a moment---an important change that you'd like to make in your life in the next few weeks or months. Now look over each Stage of Change and think about where you're at in the process and why. Now that you know what stage you're in, what do you think might help in moving you to the next!


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