5 Stages of Change Model: Which Stage Are You In?

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5 Stages of Change Model

The 5 Stages of Change Model is a very useful framework that describes the series of stages we go through to change our lifestyle habits. The critical assumption that underpins this model is that behavioral changes do not happen in one step, but through a series of distinct, predicable stages. Just realizing the stage of change you’re in may be helpful for you to succeed.

While this model was originally developed in the 1970’s to better understand how smokers are able to give up their addiction to cigarettes, it has since been used to understand changing just about any type of behavior. For the purposes of this article, eating unhealthy foods, or not exercising are the habits we are trying to change.1

1) Precontemplation

People in this stage don’t want to make any change to their habits and don’t recognize that they have a problem. They may be pessimistic about their ability to make change, or even deny the negative effects of their existing lifestyle habits. They selectively filter information that helps confirm their decision not to exercise, or eat better. This stage is many times referred to as the “denial” stage.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reach, or help people in the precontemplation stage. It may take an emotional trigger, or event of some kind that can snap people out of their denial. It’s highly likely if you are taking the time to read this article, you are not in this stage.

2) Contemplation

During this stage, you are weighing the costs (i.e. effort, time, finances) and benefits of lifestyle modification. You are contemplating whether it’s something that will be worth it. People can remain in this stage for years without preparing to take action.

I think setting very powerful, motivating goals and visualizing your results can be very helpful for someone in the contemplative stage (See: 7 Ways to Increase Your Motivation to Exercise). If you can identify new ways that making a change will benefit you, the benefits will begin to outweigh the costs. We tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so the more pleasure you can ascribe to making a change, the more likely you will take action and succeed.

3) Preparation

People in the preparation stage have decided to change their negative habits within one month. Congratulations if you’re in this category! You may have just set up an appointment with a personal trainer, nutritionist, or other fitness professional, purchased a fitness program, or started a gym membership.

4) Action

The action stage is the process of changing your lifestyle, whether you are exercising more consistently, or eating healthier. Individuals in this stage are at the greatest risk of relapse, so it’s key to leverage any techniques you can to stay motivated (See: 7 Ways to Increase Your Motivation to Exercise).

5) Maintenance

This is the stage of successful, sustained lifestyle modification. If you have been exercising for years consistently and have blended positive habits into your lifestyle, then you are in the maintenance stage.

In my experiences, people tend to bounce between the contemplation, preparation, and action stages, in other words, most people are “yoyo” dieters and exercisers. I think one way to prevent this yoyo effect from happening is to make small changes in your habits that over time create something meaningful.

In addition, yoyo dieters and exercisers should understand that maintaining physical fitness and changing fitness are two totally different paths that require different approaches. It’s not that difficult to maintain a given level of physical fitness just by remaining consistent (unless you are at a very high level). It’s very difficult, however, to prepare and take action to change your body. Our bodies are resistant to change, so trying to change them takes a MASSIVE effort that requires a substantial commitment, both mental and physical. Once you’ve changed your body, you can coast without losing that fitness level. It’s a lot better to cut back on exercise and maintain what you’ve gained then to stop completely. Stopping exercise should not be an option.

I hope these 5 stages of change are a helpful framework for you to reference when you are looking to make some type of change in your life. If there is something that helped you break free from the contemplation stage, or successfully reach the maintenance stage, without relapsing, please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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10 Comments on “5 Stages of Change Model: Which Stage Are You In?

  1. Ken lazar
    June 1, 2010 #

    Good tips…. If you are already exercising regularly and watto change it up…where would u all think that should fall…u are contemplating change but have already taken some action??

  2. Hank
    June 1, 2010 #

    This is an attempt to explain why people do not do what they should to optimize not only their own lives but those around them. When exercise and proper nutrition becomes a way of life the side benefits of better interpersonal relationships and work ethic combine to make for a more satisfying lifestyle.

  3. Pat
    June 1, 2010 #

    Great post! I think one of the things I struggle with is where to set goals so I don’t feel like I’m constantly straddling the line between the Action stage and Maintenance stage. It’s not easy but I’m working on it!

  4. Marc Perry
    June 1, 2010 #

    Hey Ken, that’s a good questions and I was hinting at it in the 2nd to last paragraph. If you are in the maintenance stage, you can still make improvements, which would then put you into the contemplation/preparation phase, even though you consistently exercise and eat well. I think changing one’s body requires a different approach than simply maintenance.

  5. Toni
    July 4, 2011 #

    Gosh, this article pretty much covered the last six years for me personally. The emotional trigger for me was my mom being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Up until that point, I had been a so-so eater and sporadic exerciser, relying on my fast metabolism to do the work for me. Then I started doing a lot of investigating about what exercise program would work for me. Months and months of thinking about it before I finally summoned the courage to do something about it. After the funeral, I made myself a silent vow that I would not die of cancer if I had anything to say about it. I began with Pilates for 10 minutes a night. Yes, I did say 10 minutes. That’s seriously all I could handle at the time. Then I got turned onto yoga and then race walking followed by strength training. Four months ago, I added running to the mix. And I’ve been going full-throttle ever since. Plus, I’m turning 40 soon (in four months) and not very happy about it so being in the best possible shape is the only way I can wrap my head around growing older. Besides, life’s too short to be out of shape.

  6. Gabriela
    October 25, 2011 #

    Maintenance! Been living a super duper healthy lifestyle my entire life!!!!!!!

    1. Marc Perry
      October 25, 2011 #

      Haha. Nice, Gabriela. That’s great to hear. Now you just need to teach other people your secret sauce!

  7. November 13, 2011 #

    Stone fitness is my trainer’s website as I do not have one yet.

    Thank you for the explanation Marc. I think I am already at the fifth stage, and sort of making new improvements all the time. I am not sure if that is yo-yo-ing or just refinement.

    I exercise about 4-5 times weekly, and it helps with my energy and feelings. I found it extremely difficult to get out of old habits and go outside on my own to exercise, all of my friends at the time were not exercising or eating well. That was three years ago.

    I became very determined to do something, got inspired by a woman who began by walking, so that is what I did, I just walked an hour each day. The only time I had was about 4am at the time (I am a teacher). I got bored of the walking and began to learn how to swim. So I did that, progressed, then I met my fantastic friend and trainer, Stone Gye. He took me through that harder stage of actually dealing with all the excuses and body pains, being slow, not participating, etc…. and now I prefer to be out training with our group.

    I love training and I have just begun my own journey to become a motivator and personal trainer myself. That is what brought me to your page here. So, thank you for helping with an assignment, and hope you have a wonderful experience helping others to be fulfilled. Thank you.

    1. Marc Perry
      November 14, 2011 #

      @Melysa Cathcart – Awesome, Melissa. That’s great to hear you are working on becoming a fitness professional. I wish you the best of luck and I’m confident with your positive attitude you can change the lives of many people!

  8. October 16, 2012 #

    I am struggling with my weight,i eat a lot especially when i am stressed, i need help on managing my weight. I’m 40 yrs of age, overweight, it’s bad because there are illnesses caused by being overweight.

    yours Annah j.

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