Walking Through the Stages of Change

Change has been on my mind, lately. From supporting my clients exercise their strategies for it, to the societal change that happens on a daily basis. How much the world seems to get a little bit farther from the times spent in our youth. With change comes adaptation. Are you old enough to remember life before the internet boom? When we had to rely on written directions and popular meet-up spots to connect with friends? However, soon enough, a smart phone was in the majority of pockets, and small inconveniences like that were suddenly eliminated.

Those inconveniences in our life didn’t disappear, but were changed themselves. Now, inconveniences arise in the form of spending extra time tracking down lost phone chargers, or building up an excess of unwanted time endlessly scrolling through our apps. Include the world’s adaptation to the pandemic, and suddenly, we are finding ourselves having to adapt more frequently and with greater urgency. And as we now move into a post Covid world, we may find it more imperative to improve the quality of our own lives. When pushing towards that change, a helpful way to get you started would be to understand the steps of change.


The Model

A popular six-step model of stage first developed in 1983 by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. With a goal of identifying the mechanisms and motivations behind desired change, the researchers ended up publishing works on Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change.

The Transtheoretical Model and Change Readiness | Pack Health


The first stage, essentially a prologue where the change we want may yet be unknown. The results of our actions may be viewed as inconsequential in this stage, and a need for something different hasn’t been strongly considered. This can look like someone suffering from alcoholism or other drug dependence denying any problem. Or maybe someone who hasn’t considered increasing their physical activity despite declines to their wellbeing.



This stage is when we may begin imagining something different for ourselves. Perhaps, it’s a voice in our head, accompanied by guilt or shame, wanting something else. Maybe our priorities have shifted, and what once was working, isn’t. There can be many reasons for change, and once it is being considered, we may begin to address what lays in our path of getting to where we want.



It is important to have some level of preparation when transitioning. It can be easy to feel we are in over our heads which can be a discouraging feeling. Encouragement would be more welcomed. Even if it took time, and you are at this stage, then congratulations are in order. You’re already more than halfway through the stages! It’s ok to savor our success before reaching the ultimate goal. Celebrating our little victories is creates fun and additional reward from the process.

This stage can also be a growing process in itself. As the stages are not necessarily linear, an eagerness to dive right in may be felt. But, if we aren’t getting the results we are looking for, then identifying what is going right and what the challenges were is going to be helpful when we attempt to try again.



So, what happens when we know there is something needed, we’ve identified it, and prepared. Well enacting the plan of course! Action is when we are actively engaging in the change process, using our skills, and implementing the desired change in our life. This can be a great stage where confidence is emboldened as the effects of what we wanted are beginning to ripple positively into our lives.



After some time, (six months as described in the theory), we enter the maintenance stage. Our strategies are continuing to be effective, and our what we wanted has found balance in our lives. At this point, it feels fairly normal not to engage in substance use, or exercise regularly, or whatever change we had in mind. This is what we hoped for during contemplation, and now we are living a desired life.



It can be really hard to accept setbacks, but it is vital to understand that these setbacks can be apart of the process. The last stage isn’t meant as the finality, but as a reality that change takes work and experience. We usually do not expect perfection from others, and it is detrimental to expect the same from ourselves.

What is important during relapse is what we learned from the experience. Returning to the preparation stage to evaluate can be helpful. Good questions to ask include: What challenges were unexpected? What part of the action plan was helpful / unhelpful? What other strategies may be implemented to support success?



Building compassion towards ourselves throughout this process will also be a vital strength to keep our spirits up. It is not easy, especially with so much chaos and uncertainty throughout the world, there may many undiscovered challenges along the way. But if we remain positive, continue to encourage and vocalize the growth we want, then it is a lot easier to push through the resistance.

So, while these stages may seem to be a broad overview of the underlining steps of when we create change for ourselves, understanding the stage we are in may be vital to success. Knowledge can be a powerful tool. Mix in some self-compassion and additional support, then you have a recipe for success.

If you find yourself struggling to reach your goals, consider contacting us here at the Chicago Counseling Center. Our licensed therapists can support you with your journey of change as you walk through the steps towards our own personal fulfillment.

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