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The 5 Stages of Change: What Step Are You On?

A look into the stages we move through when we're trying to modify our behavior.

At some point or another in our lives, we decide we need a change. This may be related to changing our attitudes, habits, body, or any number of things. Think about all those who embark on journeys to quit smoking, lose weight, return to school, improve their marriage, organize their home or knock out debt. Those examples of changing aren't easily done overnight, are they?

Many times I've heard the expression, the best way to get things done is to simply begin. Well, it ain't that easy, is it? Just diving into a significant change willy-nilly isn't the answer. Often times when we do something before we're good and ready it leads to the change effort stalling out. Why is that?

There are two well-known researchers in the field of alcoholism, Carlo DiClemente and James O. Prochaska who developed a five-stage model of change to help treaters understand their client's addiction problems and motivation to change. Their model is known as The Transtheoretical Model or simply the Stages of Change Model.

The five steps include Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. This model has been shown to be helpful in understanding not just motivation to overcome addiction, but many other lifelong changes. I'll relate them to changing hoarding behavior below:

Precontemplation Stage 

During this stage, an individual has no intention of changing their behavior. "I won't do it!"

Example: Family members might tell this person that they have too much stuff in their home and rooms are unsafe.

Contemplation Stage 

The person is aware a problem exists but is not ready to commit to taking action. "I can't do it!"

Example: An individual might realize they keep wasting money on buying things they already have.

Preparation Stage 

The individual is willing to take action. "How do I do it?"

Example: The person may start researching mental health counselors or professional organizers in the area or start to lurk in on-line clutter support groups. 

Action Stage 

The person is actively trying to modify their behavior. "I can do it!"

Example: The individual starts attending sessions with a therapist and/or organizer and begins de-cluttering areas of their home.

Maintenance Stage

Sustained change by the individual is evident. Their new positive behavior replaces the old. "I did it!"

Example: The individual is avoiding their triggers (tag sales, favorite stores) and there are more clear surfaces in the home. 

I never want to present my clients with the option that they either have to take action to change or stay stuck where they are. These choices are so limiting; taking action when one's not ready will result in failure or choosing the option of remaining stagnant means the unhealthy behavior continues. Ultimately I want to acknowledge where my client is on this model and work out solutions based on their current stage. 

I'd love to hear about the habit you're changing/have changed in the comments below.

What step are you on in this model?

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