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Choosing Change: 5 Stages to Success

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

Why does change seem effortless for some, yet impossible for others? Tackling change is brave. It takes courage, focus, and commitment. Want to change a behavior, a habit, or an addiction? Knowing these 5 Stages is key to starting, but more importantly, to maintaining change.



You do not just wake up and become the butterfly. Change is a process. The 5 Stages of Change:

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation: “It’s fine. I’m good! Mason understands me. My squad gets me.”

In stage 1, we don’t believe that change is possible for us. Or maybe we don’t even see we have a problem. We want to defend our habit(s), to downplay the degree of our problem, and to actively choose people that support our perspective. A misconception of this stage is that we aren't taking any action. On the contrary, we actively make choices in this stage… to keep us here. To keep us from moving into the next stage. Sometimes, only a big life event or a huge emotional trigger will move us into stage 2.




Stage 2: Contemplation: “Can I even do this?” The Teeter Totter Stage

In this stage, we are more aware of the personal consequences of our unhealthy habit and we spend time thinking about it. We begin to actively challenge our beliefs from Stage 1. And we teeter between our options and our consequences. “How big of a problem is this anyway? Could I get away with doing nothing? Will it be worth it? Can I even do this?” It could take as little as a couple weeks or as long as a lifetime to get through the contemplation stage. Being open to new information and hearing others out helps us move beyond contemplation.


Stage 3: Preparation/Determination: “Something has to change. What can I do?”

Now, we’ve made a commitment to make a change! We realize “Something has to change. What can I do?” We are motivated by our future. Taking small steps and gathering information. Although some spend little time in this stage or skip it altogether, it is rather important. Moving directly from contemplation into action without truly grasping the challenge ahead of us can set us up for failure rather than success. This is a great time to seek counseling (if we haven’t already) and identify our support system.


Stage 4: Action: “I’m in!”

This is the stage where we believe we can change our behavior. We are actively involved in taking steps to change our unwanted behavior by using a variety of techniques. Short-term rewards to sustain motivation. Build self-confidence by realizing behavior change efforts. Here, we tend to be most open to receiving help and are likely to seek support from others (so very important!). If we haven’t already, that support system and counseling are key in this stage! Commitment, focus, and willpower are necessary for success in the action stage. We are most at risk for relapse during stage 4.


Stage Five: Maintenance: “I’ve got this! But not completely…yet.”

Without this critical stage, we can easily regress into old ways. Negative thoughts and feelings about our ability to change, or that our method(s) didn’t work, will land us back in that Pre-contemplative stage—yep, stage 1. Increase motivation by focusing on the benefits of change rather than the effort required to maintain it. Form new rules for life! Create new rituals and habits. Learn new skills. It’s important to be patient with ourselves, but to really focus on the advantages of maintaining this change. We need to realize dropping old habits takes a lot of effort; we must practice new behaviors until they become second nature. We want them to become so automatic that maintenance becomes natural and self-correcting. Anticipate future challenges for potential setbacks and plan for them.


Evaluate progress—moving up and down through these stages.

It’s possible, even in one day, to go through multiple stages of change! The practice of change never really ends; it is a continual process. Even when people have successfully attained and maintained a certain level of change, further change may still be achievable. Let go of perfection. Accept small setbacks as temporary. Don’t let a mistake erase all that hard work!




Aspire Counseling and Wellness wants to help you or a loved one through the process of change. Call us today at 770-304-6672. Visit our website for more information: www.aspirenewnan.com




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