How change happens (5 stages)
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in stages, 5 to be exact. James O. Prochaska, PhD, John C. Norcross, PhD, and Carlo C. Diclemente, PhD, studied change in the 70’s and came up with a model that describes change as going through 5 distinct stages.
Here they are in a shot glass and plain English, and by plain English I mean how I interpret them.
- Precontemplation — (Gone)
This is before we realize that it’s us. We don’t have a problem. They do. We hold up a shield. We got this. We don’t need any help. Because nothing’s wrong with us. We are defensive, in denial, and refuse to look in a mirror. Change is for others, for broken people. We are better than that. Or them.
2. Contemplation — (Gut)
We’ve come to the realization that something in our life isn’t quite working. But we’re not sure what that is. We just feel like something’s not right. All we know is that life can be better. Yet we don’t see the causes. We’re not able to connect dots. We’re just curious about change. This can last for months or even years. We’re flirting with the idea of change. But there is no commitment. Yet.
3. Preparation — (Guide)
This is the foreplay of change. We’ve passed the flirting stage. We are now in bed but haven’t quite… you know. We’re standing in front of a mirror. We’ve made a choice to move forward. We’re just making final adjustments before the big plunge. This is an important stage. Many skip this stage, revert backwards, and get discouraged. Preparation is all about getting pumped up. A running start.
4. Action — (Grow)
This is the most important stage. It’s the one that requires the most time and energy. It’s the execution piece where so many drop the ball. We’re flicking our cigarettes. Making better choices. Leaving relationships. Drawing firm boundaries. Putting in our two weeks notice. Starting a book. A start up. A conversation. We are doing the work. But this is also the highest relapse stage. If we don’t see the results we are looking for, we can lose motivation almost instantly. We have to believe that we’ve come too far to turn back. We must burn our boats. Live or die on the island.
5. Maintenance — (Give)
This is where we’ve seen results and are now getting some momentum. But it’s crucial that this stage isn’t actually a stage. Maintenance means taking all your growth and positive changes and incorporating them into your every day life. Because change isn’t a light switch. Change is like riding a bike. We must keep pedaling in order to move forward. One way to maintain our change is to give back. Helping others with their story by using what we’ve learned from our own can be maintenance. It’s an empowering process that will help you stay on your path.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of change. And I hope whatever stage you’re at, this will motivate you to move on to the next.
Remember, growth is built.
One step at a time.
One stage at a time.