The Six Stages of Change

The Six Stages of Change
As I write this article, I am anticipating going to a little restaurant that I discovered this year to have a big slice of cake with pink and white frosting. After getting rid of so many unhealthy “treats” over the years, I am now in the midst of a relapse. I have--with premeditated deliberateness--made this cake run a weekly indulgence for a few months now. And until today, I have not told anyone.

Around the same time that I began to regularly eat cake again, I started to follow a life coach on Twitter who offers spiritual life training and health/wellness coaching. She is a little older than I am (early 50s) and in fantastic physical condition. Online, she posts pictures of what she eats in a day and short videos with snippets of her workout routine. And every time I look at one of her posts, I think I could do that. But then I remember my cake and the fact that I still eat bread and the occasional piece of meat (sometimes fried). Plus while I exercise daily, I’d have to raise the intensity quite a bit to be like my new role model.

Improving my diet and workout routines are a priority for me. Unfortunately, however, I am not yet ready to commit to change. Thanks to a steady diet of self-help books over the years combined with my current training as a substance abuse counselor, I am aware that we don’t snap our fingers and change. Change is actually a process that we go through in stages. These six stages of change were identified by Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska in the early 1980s. According to, DiClemente and Prochaska’s Stages of Change Model “is not based on abstract theories but on their personal observations of how people went about modifying problem behaviors such as smoking, overeating and problem drinking.”

The six stages of the model are:

Precontemplation: Others around you may realize that you have a problem, but at this point you are unaware or ambivalent.

Contemplation: When you are at this stage, you are aware that something is wrong and you wrestle with the problem. You may start to formulate tentative plans at this stage, but have not taken any action.

Preparation: This is when you begin to make definite plans to change. You are making phone calls, doing research and perhaps telling friends and family that you want to change.

Action: You have started to take the steps that are needed in order to change. You are in a program, following a diet, exercising, sending out resumes, creating a profile on a dating website. You have arranged your life so that you can pursue your goal.

Maintenance: Six months have passed since you modified your behavior. You are committed to this new lifestyle.

Relapse: This is an optional stage and one to avoid. Relapse means that you have returned to the habits/behaviors you worked so hard to change.

As I stated above,in terms of my weekly piece of cake, I am in the relapse stage. At the same time I am in contemplation. The stages are not static and you can actually be in two at the same time. An individual can be in precontemplation yet take action if the change has been forced upon them. Recognizing where I am in the Stages of Change model is actually helpful. I am not thrilled to have relapsed. At the same time, I know that I am not doomed to stay here forever. Individuals may cycle through the stages a few times before entering the maintenance stage long term without slipping or relapsing back into old behavior patterns.

Slips provide a great opportunity to learn. I learned that while I can say “no” to a multitude of unhealthy foods, I still want a “treat” now and then. So my route to change may be harm reduction as opposed to total abstinence. Instead of every week I could plan to get my cake, every 10 days, then every 14 days and so on.

Change is often not a linear path. According to an article on “change evolves from a subtle, complex and sometimes circuitous progression — one that involves thinking, hesitating, stepping forward, stumbling backward, and, quite possibly, starting all over again.”

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