Many health professionals use the so-called Stages-of-Change Model of James Prochaska to describe how people give up bad habits for good ones. The model seems to fit many kinds of unhealthy behaviors: eating too much fat, not exercising, smoking, using drugs, and not getting mammograms, among others. No matter what the habit, people seem to pass through the same five stages while changing it.
- The first stage is called the precontemplation stage. At this stage, people have no intention of changing. The cons of changing outweigh the pros for them. They may not believe that they even have a problem.
- The second stage is contemplation. People at this stage do see that they have a problem. They are thinking about making a change within the next 6 months. But they have not yet made up their minds for sure.
- The third stage is preparation. People in this stage have decided to make a change within the next month. But they have not yet gotten started.
- The fourth stage is action. In this stage, people stop thinking about changing and actually do it.
- The fifth stage is maintenance. This stage starts when a person has made the change and stuck with it for at least 6 months. After this length of time, the new behavior no longer seems so hard. It’s become a habit.
Moving Through the Stages
It’s rare for people to stride through all five stages in order and stay in the maintenance stage for good. Many people stay in precontemplation forever. Some get stuck in contemplation or preparation, always on the verge of changing but never quite getting around to doing it.
Many people spiral. They advance, then go back to an earlier stage, then advance again. For example, someone may decide to quit smoking (preparation stage), then decide that smoking is too enjoyable to give up (precontemplation stage). Later, perhaps when a child gets asthma or when a heart attack strikes, the smoker may enter the contemplation stage again. Or a family may have adopted a low-fat diet (action stage) and stuck to it for 8 months (so entering the maintenance stage). But during a crisis, they may not have the energy or time to cook healthful meals. They may plan to start again when the problem is over (preparation stage).
Using the Stages-of-Change Model in Your Own Life
This model can help you in several ways as you think about healthful habits. First, it reveals change as the personal and unique dance it really is, not as a march in lockstep with everyone else. Forward and back, back and forward, you may cycle through stages awhile before you spend much time in maintenance. This spiraling is normal. It can even be helpful. It gives you a chance to learn from your mistakes so that you’ll do better on your next try.
Second, it’s useful to know that the first three stages take place mostly in your head. Spending a lot of time weighing the pros and cons is a normal part of deciding to make a change. You shouldn’t be frustrated if it takes you awhile to get started on – or get back to – healthful habits. Successful change depends on coming to believe that healthful habits are worth the effort.
Third, researchers have found that people in certain stages are most open to certain kinds of help. If you are moving from precontemplation to contemplation, you can be helped by:
- Consciousness raising: learning about the risks of the unhealthful behavior and the good effects of switching to a more healthful one
- Dramatic relief: letting yourself feel the range of emotions associated with the unhealthful behavior – for example, anger at the thought of giving up a familiar habit, distress over the harm that may befall you if you don’t, shock or grief over a friend who died from a heart attack
- Environmental reevaluation: becoming aware of how your unhealthful behavior affects your family, your pets, your home, and your social and work life – for example, are you shortening your children’s lives by setting a bad example for them to follow?
As you move into contemplation, another method joins the first three:
- Self-reevaluation: contrasting how you see yourself now as a person who smokes, eats a high-fat diet, is sedentary, or has some other unhealthful behavior with how you’ll see yourself when you’re a nonsmoker or an active person
- After you’ve moved from contemplation to preparation, you know why a change is a good idea and are preparing yourself to deal with the change. Now, another method may help you move to action:
- Self-liberation: making a decision to change, committing to the change, and believing that you can do it
- When you enter the action stage, several new aids come to the forefront. Their help continues during the maintenance stage:
- Reinforcement: praising yourself, giving yourself rewards for each small step, being praised by other people for your change
- Helping relationships: having people to talk to about your change, getting support for your decision
- Counterconditioning: replacing unhealthful choices with healthful ones, such as using skim milk instead of whole milk or going for a walk when you’re stressed instead of eating ice cream
- Stimulus control: changing your environment to make healthful habits easier, such as not allowing high-fat foods in your house or avoiding situations in which you overeat
If you can figure out where you are, you can tailor your weight-loss approach to that stage. For example, if you’re in contemplation, it may help to learn as much as you can about the dangers of obesity and poor diabetes control and do some soul searching about how you feel about your weight. But if you’re in the action stage, it’s more useful to collect tips for cutting fat from your diet and finding time to exercise.
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Crystal is a health and fitness blogger who loves to write articles about health and weight loss. Recently she read reviews about garcinia cambogia and found how it can help in weight loss.