In 1984, two researchers in the field of chemical dependency, Carlo DiClemente and J. Prochaska introduced a six-stage model of change to help professionals understand their clients with addiction problems. Their model is based on personal observation of how people proceeded with modifying problematic behaviors, such as smoking, drug or alcohol consumption, and overeating.
DiClemente and Prochaska’s model involves six stages that takes a person from the beginning of learning by identifying the problem to the final result of living without that problem. The six stages of the model are precontemplation, contemplation, determination, action, maintenance, and termination. Changing lifestyles, habits, or beliefs can be a daunting task; but having an understanding of how change takes place and the process that is involved can help us tremendously. These are the steps that we must take in order to make lasting changes.
Individuals in the precontemplation stage are not thinking about changing their behavior. People in this stage are often described as “in denial” due to their claim that their behavior is not a problem or that others who point out the problem are exaggerating. A person in the precontemplation stage may feel resigned to their current state or believe that they have no control over their behavior. They may be overwhelmed by the problematic behavior.
During this stage, people are becoming more aware that they might have a problem. They are starting to think about the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This tension creates ambivalence about changing. They are on the fence. The contemplation stage is not a stage of commitment, but more a stage of learning about their area of difficulty and the different treatment options.
Because of this high ambivalence and uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years. In fact, many people never make it past the contemplation phase. During this stage, you may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits.
Determination: Commitment to Action
During the determination or preparation stage, while the ambivalence might still be there in smaller degrees, the individual has resolved to make some changes. You might begin by making smaller changes to prepare for a larger change. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you might drink more water, and eat less fried foods. If your goal is to stop smoking, you might smoke a few less cigarettes each day. You might take some form of direct action, such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club or weight loss group, or read some self-help books.
This stage represents preparation as much as determination. The next step in this stage is to make a realistic plan. Commitment to change without appropriate skills and activities can create a shaky and incomplete action plan. Often, with the help of a treatment professional, individuals will make a realistic assessment of the level of difficulty involved in stopping their problematic behavior. They will begin to anticipate pitfalls and come up with concrete solutions.
In this fourth stage of change, people begin taking more direct action in order to accomplish their goals. The action stage typically involves making some form of public commitment in order to get external confirmation of the plan. Making such public commitments not only helps people obtain the support they need, but it creates external monitors. People often find it very helpful to know that others are watching and cheering them on. A person who has implemented a good plan begins to see it working and experiences it working over time, making adjustments along the way. The action stage normally takes three to six months to complete.
Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time. For example, many people make a new year’s resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, begin eating a healthier diet, and cut back on sugary snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.
If you are currently taking action towards achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take. Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change. Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.
Change requires building a new pattern of behavior over time. The real test of change is long-term sustained change over many years. This fifth stage of successful change is called maintenance. During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue making the change that they have begun. If you are trying to maintain a new behavior, look for ways to avoid temptation. Try replacing old habits with more positive actions.
In any behavioral change, relapses are a common occurrence. When you go through a relapse, you might experience feelings of failure, disappointment, anger, and frustration. The key to success is to not let these setbacks undermine your self-confidence. Relapses are common and are a part of the process of making lifelong change. If you relapse back to an old behavior, take a good look at what caused the relapse. What were the triggers and what can you do to avoid these triggers in the future, if possible?
While relapses can be difficult, the best solution is to start again with the preparation, action, or maintenance stages of behavior change. You might want to reassess your resources and techniques. Reaffirm your motivation, plan of action, and commitment to your goals. Also, make plans for how you will deal with any future temptations.
The ultimate goal in the change process is termination. At this stage, the individual feels that the old behavior is not a threat anymore and that he or she has complete confidence to cope without fear of relapse. In this final stage of termination, the threat of relapse is truly reduced. When triggers arise, such as personal crisis or financial hardship, the person has a support system in place and resources available to maintain their new healthier habits.