Have you ever wanted to make a change but not followed through? Signed up for an exercise program, then not attended? Or hired a coach that ended up not being right for you? There’s a model of change that can shed light on why this happens.

The Transtheoretical Model developed by Prochaska & DiClemente in 1983 can help us better understand the change process. I studied it in college, but hadn’t thought about it much until coming upon it again in my positive psychology master’s program. It’s worth wading through because it can explain a lot.

Simply put, this theory proposes that there are stages that we move through as we seek to change our behavior. Understanding which stage you are in allows you to seek “stage appropriate” support, and avoid resources that aren’t right for where you are.

The model has been applied to multiple specific health changes such as stopping smoking, or starting an exercise plan. I believe it can also be used to support those who are seeking to step out of the dieting cycle and embrace an intuitive approach to eating.

The five stages in the model are: pre-contemplation (not ready), contemplation (getting ready), preparation (ready), action, and maintenance.

In the pre-contemplation stage you may be curious but have no intention to take action in the immediate future. It may be because you don’t yet understand the costs or consequences of your current behavior, or you’re just not interested. You are thus unmotivated for change, not ready for help, and possibly resistant, even though you are aware that the status quo isn’t optimal. More understanding of the drawbacks of not changing may help you move to another stage, whereas being pushed to act may backfire.

In the contemplation stage you have a desire to change in the future, but are not yet ready. You have become more aware of the consequences of not changing, but are also aware of the challenge of change. You may be ambivalent, stuck, or afraid, and need some gentle encouragement, not judgment or pushing.

In the preparation stage, you are developing a plan of action. You are motivated and ready for change but haven’t yet taken behavioral action. You’re researching and considering options. The preparation stage is when you gather your resources and address obstacles in order to set a foundation for future success. It’s an important step in the change process. Being pushed to take action ahead of when you’re ready can also backfire at this stage.

In the action stage you are taking steps to change. You’ve jumped in and are practicing new behavior with varying degrees of success. You may feel overwhelmed or come across unpredicted obstacles, and need to seek advice. At earlier stages this advice could have been discouraging but now it’s welcome.

In the final stage of maintenance you are continuing the changed behavior and are growing more confident. You are less tempted to revert back to old behavior but still face challenges. Ongoing support may be needed. You may even “relapse” back to your old habits and need to work through the stages again.

When considering a change, ask yourself, what stage are you in? What information or support could be helpful to you at this stage? And what support could be too much, too fast?

The change process takes time. Don’t let anyone shame you for not taking action quicker. When you know what stage you’re starting from there are multiple cognitive, affective, experiential, and behavioral processes that can help you successfully move ahead. Using this model you can seek the support that matches your needs, and increase your chance of successful change.

If you would like to talk about your struggles with food, eating, and your body, get on my calendar here (and if you need another time, fill out the contact form). I’ve got no agenda other than better understanding my readers.



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This week I’m reading The How of Happiness – A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. It features fascinating research on living our best lives, including managing stress and taking care of our body and soul.

For more resources, check out our Resources page.

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We’ve got much more coming, so stay tuned!