Change: Creating Lasting Behavioral Shifts

New Year’s Eve is around the corner. A time of new beginnings, celebrations, and often New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are instituted at the beginning of the year with so much hope, excitement, and earnestness. The hard truth about resolutions is the majority of people fail to keep them. Some reports say as much as 80% of resolutions fail by mid-February. Many people site lack of clarity or unrealistic expectations as the reason for failure. While those are very important components, understanding the stages and the process of change is just as important. 

The Stages of Change model was researched and developed in the 1970’s by Drs. Prochaska and DiClemente. They studied people wanting to quit smoking and were curious why it was easier for some to quit rather than for others. In large part, the difference was people quit when they were ready to quit. But what made them ready?

Readiness for behavioral change is cyclical, not rapid, and well-thought out. Below is a brief description and visual aid to the Stages of Change model. 

Pre-contemplation: Problem? What problem?

You are still resistant to the concept of changing, and could be deeply in denial, even as those around you are able to see your problem easily. You may be willing to learn something about what needs to be changed, but there is not yet a willingness to take the next step.

Contemplation: Thinking it over.

You begin to acknowledge the problem and accept that change is in your future. Contemplation is a time of weighing and analyzing the pros and cons of the old behavior to the new behavior. People frequently “dance” back and forth between pre-contemplation and contemplation. It can be an integral part of the process as you get ready to take on the responsibility for changing. You will not move onto change until you are completely convinced the negative impacts of your behavior outweigh the pros of your behavior.

Preparation: Putting your ducks in a row

You begin to widen your thinking about all the things you need to do to make your change. If you are going to quit smoking, perhaps you “go public” with your goal and throw away your secret stash of cigarettes. Maybe you begin checking out various programs that could help you or seek a self-help book with steps to change your behavior. Taking time to do proper research during this phase is a critical step in the future success of your sustainable change.

Action: Diving in

This is the most exciting stage, though you may be nervous about moving forward. It can take anywhere from 28 days to several months to change a habit so start by working on one or two things at a time. Try not to overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. As time passes, the process of changing will get easier, which will give you more confidence moving forward.

Maintenance: Living with change indefinitely

This stage is commonly overlooked. Maintenance is the act of living with your change and practicing your new behavior day after day. You will hit some rough spots that may last for days, weeks, or months — or even longer. But with support, you can avoid reverting to your old ways.

Recycling: Staying aware

At this point, you are clear of your old behavior, and never find yourself tempted to revert. Warning: for many, this stage never really arrives, and they stay in maintenance. Some people relapse years later. You need to keep nurturing the delicate balance you’ve created. This is real change, however tentative it might feel.

So as you contemplate making New Year’s resolutions, consider consciously moving through and around the stages of change.