The Change Workshop

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Seven Stages of Change

I recently learned about the Seven Stages of Change from my cousin, Jane Hagerty, who learned about them at a training class on emotional intelligence. The seven stages were developed by Dr. James Prochaska and form his "transtheoretical model" of change, detailed in the groundbreaking book "Changing for Good." The stages are also the cover story in this month's Fast Company magazine, "Change or Die." Learning about these stages was an eye opener for me. I'm being more gentle with myself as I explore which stage I'm in. Here is a brief description of the stages:

1. Precontemplation (not aware we need to change) This is commonly called "denial". Everyone around you sees it but you don't. For example, you have a smoking/nicotine addiction. It doesn't have to be a raging addiction - it can be continual anger - but it is interfering in your life.
2. Contemplation (thinking about it) Have you ever asked a good friend, "When are you going to quit smoking?" Most often the answer is, "I'm thinking about it. I'm just not ready yet." This is an important stage because we must be ready to change before we actually do it. Many of us stay in this stage a while - sometimes years.
3. Preparation (getting ready) Heard someone say they were going to start an exercise program then, months later, they say they are waiting for the right shoes, right clothes, right gym? We may remain in this stage for as long as it takes before we take the next step.....
4. Commitment (ready to take the plunge) We know what date we will begin the change. This could be changing jobs or going vegan. Whatever it is, we're ready and somewhat eager to begin.
5. Action (you do it) You actually quit smoking or change your eating habits. This isn't the end - or even the beginning as some programs assume. You feel the difference - but will it last?
6. Maintenance (sticking with it) You've been living the change for a while but you still struggle with staying committed. This has got to be the hardest part of change - you told everbody about it so now if you blow it, everyone will notice. You've had to make some adjustments but it still feels right.
7. Termination (the change is over - it's now part of your life) Dr. Prochaska talks about relapse at this stage but refers to it as recycling - you may go back to one of the other stages several times before it is so ingrained you can't remember how life was like before you made the change. I quit smoking in 1989 and can't imagine ever going back so I know what this feels like.