Previously I addressed ambivalence. The behavior change looms out there but there are reasons that an individual remains stuck in the behavior and doesn’t move in the direction of change. Arguments made for change cause the person to dig in his/her heels and remain entrenched in doing more of the same.

At this point blame often shifts to that person and statements like the following are made, “Oh you’re just not ready,” “You’re in denial,” or “You don’t want this bad enough,” sometimes with the intention of shaming the individual into committing to change in that moment. But there is so much more underlying the decision to make a change. And what if the manner in which we approach the conversation made a difference in the outcome?

First, we must consider that there are different stages of change. Change is a process not a single action at a single point in time. The process is fluid but also unique to each individual.

Prochaska and DiClemente (1986) outlined several stages of change that include the following: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. What does this mean?


Precontemplation: No consideration for change. This person is not ambivalent, meaning he/she doesn’t have mixed feelings about change. This person is content with the status quo.

Contemplation: This person is beginning to weigh the reasons why he/she might want to make a change. This person is definitely ambivalent. This person is starting to desire something different for himself/herself, outlining some of the reasons for wanting to make this change, and considering his/her ability to do so, but hasn’t begun taking any real steps in the direction of change.

Preparation: An individual in the preparation stage has decided he/she is ready to make a change and is putting together the resources to make this happen, but no real change has occurred yet.

Action: This is where the rubber meets the road. This person has decided to make a change and is taking steps to do so.

Maintenance: This stage occurs when the individual takes steps that help him/her sustain whatever changes have been made.

So, let’s put this together with my running example.

At one point of my life I was not a runner and I mentioned that I would have laughed if anyone had ever suggested I try it. At this point in my life I was clearly in precontemplation. No amount of persuasion at this point would have convinced me to lace up my shoes and go for a single run, much less regularly run. I was fine with life as it was.

However, later I did become a runner. Over the course of years since I made the decision to start running, I have been faced with the remaining stages of change in relation to my running. I contemplated what it meant to become a runner. In other words, I thought about going outside and putting one foot in front of the other. I thought about what equipment I might need which at first seemed as simple as a good pair of shoes. I’ve since come to understand that there is no shortage of running gear and it can be quite an expensive hobby especially when factoring in races and travel to said races. But these things were also part of the contemplation stage. What would keep me motivated to run or to continue to run? Ah, but I get ahead of myself. More on that train of thought later…

Okay, I decided I was going to commit to running. Now what? I needed to consider what equipment I needed which were the shoes I mentioned above, and I had to figure out when and where I was going to run, and how often. Once I had my plan then it was time to put it all into…

ACTION! I laced up my shoes, walked out the door, and started running! I would love to say all was glorious, I never looked back and have always been a runner since that day.

BUT…there’s another stage: Maintenance. It might have all ended that first day. I might have gotten out there and huffed and puffed and sweated and grunted, and decided running was just NOT for me. Yet, I didn’t. I (eventually) decided this was something I wanted to continue to do and so I had to plan for how I was going to maintain this new, healthy behavior.

And I also needed to plan for maintenance to avoid a final stage that has been added which is Relapse. I would like to say I planned well for maintenance and therefore stayed in the action stage since the first day I went out for a run. Sadly, I have gone through several periods of relapse sometimes all within the short span of a week!

Before moving into what motivates people to make a healthy change let’s think about these processes for a bit and consider where we might be with regard to the behavior change I asked about the other day. Are you completely satisfied where you are or have you considered doing something different? Have you thought about it and maybe started some of the preparations to be successful? Have you started only to “fall off the wagon?”

So what moves us forward in the processes of change? Stay tuned…

Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1986). Toward a comprehensive model of change (pp. 3-27). Springer US.

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