The Stages of Change Theory is a theory that describes the process of change. It states that there are different stages every person goes through when they make changes in their life. The stages are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse. In order for someone to move through these stages, they must come into contact with information that will cause them enough discomfort so that it motivates them to do something about the situation. These stages can be applied to any type of change – from quitting smoking to starting an exercise routine!
- Pre-contemplation. The first stage is pre-contemplation which includes people who have not yet started considering changing their behavior or accomplishing their goals.
- Contemplation. People at this stage intend to begin healthy behavior in the near future. People recognize that their behavior may be problematic, and more thoughtful and practical consideration of the benefits and drawbacks of changing the behavior occurs, with equal weight placed on both. Even with this recognition, people may be hesitant to change their behavior or have no commitment to taking an action.
- Preparation. The ‘cons’ of continuing to outweigh the ‘pros,’ and people in this stage are less hesitant to take the next step. They usually take small steps toward changing their behavior by gathering information with the intent to take action to address the problem. They believe that change is required and that the time for change has arrived.
- Action. People in this stage have recently changed their behavior and intend to continue with that behavior change. People may demonstrate this by modifying their problem behavior or acquiring new healthy behaviors. They may also assert this by actively participating in taking steps to change their behavior and making significant progress toward significant change. At this point, indifference is still very likely, it means that they are more inclined to attempt a variety of techniques and are also more likely to relapse.
- Maintenance. People in this stage have maintained their behavior change for a while and intend to maintain the behavior change in the future. They are able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to old behaviors, as well as learn to anticipate and deal with temptations to use and are able to employ new coping strategies.
- Relapse. This occurs when people fall back into old patterns of behavior. Relapses can be beneficial for learning and strengthening a person’s resolve to change. Relapses, on the other hand, can be a catalyst for giving up on the quest for change. The key to recovering from a relapse is to examine the quit attempt up to that point, identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and devise a plan to address those weaknesses in order to avoid similar problems in the future, thus going back into the pre-contemplation stage.
Every person needs to be in the right headspace for change. Knowing the stage can help guide you to make better decisions about what they want to do next.