Stages of Change

What Are The Stages Of Change and Where Are You In The Process?

According to Prochaska and DiClemente there are 5 stages of change (6 if you include relapse, we’ll get to that). The 5 stages of change are Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. It’s helpful to look at the stages to understand what steps you might need to take to continue to be successful in moving forward. So let’s take a look at each one.


If you were in precontemplation you wouldn’t likely be reading this post. Precontemplators don’t typically think they have a problem, they do a great job of rationalizing problems associated with their behaviors. The other possibility with precontemplation is that you have tried so many things to change and nothing has worked and you are now at the “Why Bother?” place and have basically resigned yourself to this is as good as it’s going to get. It’s unfortunate  but most of us don’t change until we have had some pretty severe consequences.


If you are in this stage of change, you are swinging back and forth between “I should change” and “it’s not really that bad is it?”  One day you feel really motivated to change and the next day you start to feel deprived about giving up the substance or behavior, or you fall back into the minimizing and rationalizing the effects of the behavior. There is a lot of ambivalence in this stage.

It’s helpful during this stage to do a pros and cons list, to think about your Values, are you living in a way that fits with what you believe is important. For instance, you say you want to save money to buy a home but you go out to eat more nights than not, you never say no to a night out at the local pub, you pull out the credit cards when you don’t really have the money for something.

Once you start to believe you might have a problem it creates internal conflict each time you engage in the behavior. You may be able to rationalize or justify your actions but you won’t feel good about it.


In the preparation stage you have decided to go for it, it’s time to do something different. A lot of people once they have decided to change just jump right into action and miss this very important step. Taking the time to create a plan for change, identifying potential obstacles and creating strategies, developing your support system, are all part of this stage and will create a higher likelihood of success. Deciding to attend a 12 step program, getting a coach or a therapist that will help to hold you accountable, or joining an online community such as can be a helpful part of this stage.

Breaking it down a little more let’s look at what a plan might include. When we develop a plan that includes small changes that are realistic we are more likely to be successful, using the theme of overspending maybe the first step is to limit eating out to 1 time a week and it might be helpful to plan menus for the other nights. Sustain that change for 30 days and then move to the next step. You might also start to develop a goal and a plan to get out of debt and set up an action step for that. The idea is to create change but at a pace that is sustainable.

Exceptions to moving forward in moderation are when there is a serious substance dependence. It’s not likely that you can drink less if you are alcohol dependent, and you should never go cold turkey without medical supervision if you are a heavy drinker or drug user.


Let’s do this thing. This is where you start the change process, you learn new coping strategies for stress, you rely on your support system, and you identify new activities. It is also important during this stage to identify feelings of loss and deprivation. With every change in life ideally we gain something but there is also a loss. If the change is that I am going to get my spending under control the obvious gain is that I will have more income, lower my debt, etc…

But the loss of immediate gratification, maybe having to say no to friends and social activities may seem like a big price to pay. It’s necessary to honor those feelings but also have the strategies in place so that it doesn’t feel like you are losing more than you are gaining. Maybe instead of a night out where the tab will end up being $60 to $90 in food and drinks you have friends over for a potluck BBQ, or board games where you BYOB.

And you definitely want to acknowledge our successes.


After about 6 months of success in the action stage you move into maintenance. In this stage you continue to sustain the commitment to change. You review your strategies and build on your goals for growth and continued movement forward.

If you have your debt under control and you have curbed your impulse spending, the next step might be to look at investment options, or even more ways to live on a budget and make a game out of finding great deals on items you use regularly. Continue to acknowledge success and use coping strategies if urges or impulses come up.

Using some of the strategies like EFT, MIndfulness, and Visualization can help to keep you moving forward and committed to your goals.


Hope this article was helpful.