Overcoming negative behaviours: The Stages of Change

Dec 2020 | Resources

It’s difficult to change our negative behaviours, even if it harms us. But why?

Change ignites fear, intimidation and resistance within us. We fear rejection, loss or failure. Successful behaviour change takes an immense amount of time, courage, emotion and effort.

The Stages of Change, also known as the “transtheoretical model”, is a means of examining the various stages that we go through while working to change our behaviour. The model was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente as they studied how people went about changing problem behaviours such as smoking, overeating and problem drinking.

The steps of the Stages of Change are dynamic. Moving between stages is normal. Think of the stages of grief – everyone experiences grief differently. Most people will go through the various stages of change many times before they’re able to successfully make a positive, permanent change.


  1. Pre-contemplation (not ready)
    During this stage there is no intention to change behaviour. Many people don’t see their behaviour as a problem. They might not understand, or they might be in denial.
  2. Contemplation (getting ready)
    During this stage people become aware that a problem exists. They’re seriously thinking about changing behaviour but haven’t committed to it.
  3. Preparation (ready)
    The preparation stage is the beginning of exploration; the information gathering stage. People start researching and/or relying on their support systems for guidance. People in this stage want to take action soon.
  4. Action (current action)
    This is the action moment of change, where people modify their behaviour, experiences or environment to overcome their problematic behaviour. This stage requires considerable commitment of time, energy and emotion.
  5. Maintenance (monitoring)
    During this stage, people stick to the new action over time. Here, the goal is to prevent relapse and form new habits.
  6. Termination
    At this stage the new behaviour is ingrained and habitual. There is no desire to return to past negative behaviours. Reaching this stage is incredibly rare, particularly with addictive behaviours. It’s likely most people will remain at stage 5: consistent maintenance.

In most meaningful behavioural change, there will be relapses. Don’t give up. The Stages of Change is a spiral model. People trying to change usually fluctuate between stages, rather than consistently progress.

Naturally, this is frustrating for the person trying to change. But progress isn’t linear, and relapse isn’t failure. We must recognize the setback as a lapse that can be overcome, and take action to correct the behaviour as soon as possible.

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