How to change a habit the 6 stages of behavior change

Jonah Lester
How to change a habit the 6 stages of behavior change

You want to quit smoking? lose weight? Be more fit? ...

Anyone who has ever made a New Year's resolution will know how difficult it really is to implement behavior change in our daily lives. Unfortunately, making a lasting change in behavior is rarely a simple process, and it usually involves a great deal of time, effort, and emotion on our part..

Whether we want to lose weight, quit smoking, or achieve another goal, there is no one solution that works well for everyone. We generally must try several different techniques, often through trial and error, to achieve our goal. It is during this period that many people get discouraged and give up on their change goals. The key to maintaining our goals is based on trying new techniques and finding a way to stay motivated..

Fortunately, although change may not be easy, psychologists have developed a number of techniques to help people achieve their desired goal. Many of these techniques are used by therapists, doctors, and teachers. One of these theories, known as the Stages of Change model, has been used to help people understand the process of change. This model shows that change is seldom easy and often requires a gradual progression of small steps toward a larger goal..

Here we explain what are the elements of change and its 6 stages.


  • The elements of change
  • Stage 1: Pre-contemplation
  • Stage 2: Contemplation
  • Stage 3: Preparation
  • Stage 4: Action
  • Stage 5: Maintenance
  • Stage 6: Relapse
  • Conclusions
    • Sources

The elements of change

To be successful in our behavior change, we need to ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. Prepare for change: Do we have the resources and knowledge necessary to achieve lasting change??
  2. Barriers to change: Is there anything that prevents us from changing?
  3. Expect relapse: What could cause us to return to a previous behavior?

One of the best known approaches to behavior change is known as the "Stages of Change" model, which was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo Diclemente, who studied different ways to help people to give up smoking.

According to this model, change happens gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process of achieving life-long change. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing their behavior..

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation

The earliest stage of change is known as pre-contemplation. During this stage the individual has no intention of making any changes. People are often "in denial" because they claim that their behavior is not a problem..

If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to maintaining your current state or believe that you have no control over your behavior. In some cases, people do not understand that their behavior may be harmful or are under-informed about the consequences of their actions..

If you are in this stage, start by asking yourself these questions. Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past? How do you recognize that you have a problem? What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior as a problem?

Stage 2: Contemplation

During this stage people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, on the contrary, the cost of making it happen also becomes clearer. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about change.

Because of this uncertainty, the stage of contemplating change can last for months or even years. In fact, many people never go beyond this phase, as during this stage they may view change as a process of giving, rather than a means of obtaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits..

If you are contemplating a change in behavior in your life, there are some important questions you can ask yourself: Why do I want to change? Is there something stopping me from changing? What are the things that could help me make this change?

Stage 3: Preparation

During the preparation stage we begin to make small changes to prepare for a bigger change. For example, if our goal is to lose weight, we can start eating low-fat foods. If it's quitting, maybe we'll start by switching brands or smoking less each day. We can also carry out some kind of direct action, such as consulting a therapist, reading self-help books, etc..

If we are in the preparation stage, there are some steps we can take to improve our chances of success. We can gather as much information as possible about the different ways to change our behavior. It's also a good idea to make a motivational list and write down your goals. We can seek outside resources as much as possible such as support groups, counselors, or friends who can offer advice and encouragement..

Stage 4: Action

During the fourth stage of change, we begin to take direct action to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion our efforts fail because the previous steps we have not taken with enough time or thought..

For example, many people who make the decision to lose weight immediately start a reduced-calorie diet and establish a rigid exercise program. These steps are vital to success, but we often abandon our efforts within weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked..

If you are currently taking action to achieve a goal, congratulate yourself and reward yourself for any positive steps you do. Reinforcement and support are extremely important to help us maintain positive steps toward change. Take the time to periodically review your motivations, resources and progress, in order to update your commitment and motivation towards change..

Stage 5: Maintenance

The maintenance phase consists of avoiding falling back into previous behavior patterns in order to maintain the change. During this stage, people become more confident that they will be able to continue the change..

If you are trying to maintain a new behavior, find ways to avoid temptation. Try to replace old habits with more positive actions. Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse. If temptation overcomes you, don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, remember that it was just a minor setback. As you will discover in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a life-long change..

Stage 6: Relapse

In any attempted behavior change, relapses are a common process. When we relapse, we may have feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration..

The key to success is not allowing these setbacks to undermine our self-confidence. If we revert to an old behavior, let's review the reason why it happened. What caused the relapse? What can we do to avoid these triggers in the future?

Although relapses can be difficult to manage, the best solution is to start over with the preparation, action, and maintenance stages. It will be interesting to re-evaluate our resources and techniques. Reaffirm your motivation, action plan and commitment to your goals again. Also, make plans for how to deal with any future temptations..

Resolutions fail when we don't carry out the proper preparation and action. When we approach a goal with a good understanding of how to prepare for the unexpected, we can act and successfully maintain the new behavior.


It is not easy to make a major and lasting change in behavior a reality in our lives. But these six steps can help us be successful in our business. Many clinical programs focused on behavior change use these steps, from smoking cessation to addiction recovery. So do not hesitate, start to get going and if necessary, let yourself be helped by others.


Diclemente, Carlo C. Addiction and change: How addictions develop and addicted people recover. Sl: Guilford; 2018.

Mastellos N, Gunn LH, FĂ©lix LM, Car J, Majeed A. Stages of the transtheoretical model for dietary and physical change in weight loss management for overweight and obese adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

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