Wholeness Healing Today

Change-A New Perspective

It is 2020 and often with our new year, we work on identifying changes we want to bring into our life (usually  through resolution type goals). I thought perhaps understanding the stages of change might help each of us assess  where we are in that process and what our next action step might realistically be to set ourselves up for success. If we have excuses, or past failures, there may be a reason. It may depend on what stage of change you are experiencing.

James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente identified the stages of change after conducting thousands of different studies. Their focus centered on what needs to happen for successful change versus blaming failings on deficiencies of those who wanted to change. They came up with six predictable stages in the change process called the Stages of Change. Understanding these stages can help set you up for movement in the right direction to make a significant change in your life. This understanding can give you guidance in supporting yourself in the stage you are and not move to the next step prematurely. (Cherry, 2019)

What stage are you in as you consider changes you want to make in 2020?

Precontemplation: People may not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (six months). They may not even perceive a problem. Most people in this stage don’t want to change themselves but rather want to change the people
around them.

Contemplation: People intend to change in the next six months. They are thinking about changing and assessing the problem and its benefits. Here you explore your ambivalence to change and bring both your rational mind and emotions into play to move yourself to a commitment to change.

Preparation: People intend to take action in the immediate future (usually measured as the next month). This is where you prepare, remove temptations, plan how action can be taken, and arrange support and understanding. You also arrange substitutes for the missed habit or activity or substance. If you find yourself procrastinating or holding back, you may want to move back into the contemplation stage.

Action: This is the stage where people have made specific changes in their lifestyles within the past six months. This is probably the stage most of us picture because it is the actual practice of a new way of being.

Maintenance: People work to prevent relapse. This stage can last from six months to a lifetime. You may benefit from understanding the difference between a lapse and a total relapse (a complete collapse back into the old way), which is called recycling in this model. Recognizing a lapse and taking immediate action can save the effort. The goal is not perfection but rather being in learning mode so we can self correct more rapidly.

Termination: This stage is when people have no temptation and are sure they will not return to their old unhealthy habit as a way of coping. Total termination of the problem behavior may not occur. This depends on the desired change and the person. There may be a lifetime of careful maintenance.

Recycling: Researchers have relabeled “relapse” as recycling. This isn’t a stage but rather the return from action or maintenance to an earlier stage. This is important to understand because moving into shame after failing is not helpful. But understanding that most people fail at one stage or another before making a subsequent attempt that succeeds helps us manage better. Serious New Year’s resolutions typically are made for five consecutive years or more before the person achieved the maintenance stage. Researchers found that action followed by relapse is far better than no action. (Burdett, 2011)

As you consider this New Year and changes you would like to make, also consider that preparation and setting up sufficient support are certainly helpful. Understanding what you needed in your previous attempt to change can put you back into the learning mode versus being shamed for your failure. Figure out what stage you are in and allow yourself to develop fully in this stage before moving on to the next. Stages can be considered periods of gestation in any growth process. Attempting change wisely means understanding what will likely be nurturing in the stage you are. And finally, realize we don’t necessarily move through these in a linear fashion. We can be in action or  maintenance and find we need to revisit aspects of contemplation or preparation to support ourselves. Realize any action is progress towards your real goal. So here is to you in your 2020 journey making changes and growing as you are ready.

Works Cited:

Burdett, B. (2011). Stages of change. Stages of Change. Well People, Wellness Inventory

Cherry, K. (2019, July 1). https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stages-of-change-2794868. Retrieved from verywellmind: verywellmind.com

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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