As a new year dawns, here’s a psychological model that can help you make positive changes in your life – and keep them
This is the first stage of the model. In this stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next six months). People are often unaware that their behaviour is problematic or produces negative consequences. They also often underestimate the benefits of changing behaviour and place too much emphasis on the cons of changing behaviour. They are often not aware of these processes.
If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever tried to change this behaviour in the past? How do you recognise that you want to change? What would have to happen for you to consider changing your behaviour?
During this stage, you will start to become aware of the benefits of making a positive change. Bear in mind that many people never make it past this stage.
Generally, if you are considering making the change within the next six months, you are at this stage. Ask yourself some important questions:
Why do you want to change? Is there anything preventing you from changing? What are some of the things that could help you make this change?
You may still feel ambivalent towards making the change but the fact that you are contemplating is a step in the right direction.
Others can help you at this stage by encouraging you to work at reducing the cons of changing your behaviour and emphasising the pros. Learn from those who have already made changes.
If you are ready to start taking action within the next 30 days, you are at the preparation stage. You may have even started making small changes to your life.
Gather as much information about ways to help you change. Look at various techniques and seek outside resources and help. Don’t be tempted to start making the big change yet as you may be under-prepared and this is where others often fail. The first week of the New Year is where many people start and fail their resolutions because they haven’t given their aims enough thought or preparation.
Take time to refresh your reasons and motivations for wanting to make the change.
During this stage, you will take direct action towards your change. If you are looking to lose weight, you will start your new diet or cut back on snacks. If you are looking to quit smoking, you will start cutting down your daily intake. These steps are, of course, integral to making the change but skipping the previous steps could end up with your attempts to change being abandoned.
Set yourself mini goals to achieve and reward yourself when you reach them. Keep the bigger picture in mind but remember that you can’t reach your ultimate goal without hard work and dedication. Positive reinforcement from outside sources is helpful and if you have prepared thoroughly, you will have those to help you in place already.
The maintenance stage involves awareness of successfully avoiding former bad habits and keeping up new ones.
There will naturally be times when you feel like you are doing well and equally, there will be times when you feel that you are making no progress at all. What’s important to remember is that one mistake doesn’t mean that you are back to square one. Start a new day with new vigour. Relapses, as you will discover, are part and parcel of the maintenance stage. But they are not fatal – you simply start again.
In any behaviour change, relapses are a common occurrence. Feelings of failure, disappointment and frustration all occur when experiencing a relapse – and these are normal feelings. It doesn’t mean that you have failed.
To overcome a relapse, it’s worth taking another look at your motivations and identifying what triggers led to the relapse in the first place. Try and figure out what barriers are stopping you from achieving your goal and make adjustments to remove them from your life, or strategies to deal with, or overcome them. Resolutions fail when there aren’t proper preparations or actions. Understanding all of the stages will give you the best chance of succeeding.
This feature is based on The Stages of Change Model, developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the 1980s