There is a theory called the Stages of Change that is used in counseling, social work, education, and more! This model represents the process we go through when making changes. These stages are not linear, people can move back and forth and through the stages fluidly at any point in time. But you might be wondering what the point of these stages are and how they are of any use to people who are not counselors? Well, it might help you become more reflective on your life, or it might help you understand others in your life better. Knowing the stages of change can help understand how to progress through them and how to work with where you are at in the process. Often people think that the stages of change are only for those trying to quit using substances, but this process can be used for changing any behavior! If you try to work with someone (or yourself) without acknowledging what stage of change they are in, you might find that attempts to get them to change are not working. This is because trying to force someone into a stage that they have not progressed into will lead to frustration and failed attempts. People progress at different rates and in different ways, so it is important to meet people where they are at. Sometimes the stage of change model is presented with four stages, but I prefer the model with five stages. Those stages are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance (in the four-stage model preparation and action are the same).
The pre-contemplative stage is often viewed as the first stage because in this stage people do not want to change. They may view themselves as not having a need to change. In this stage it is going to be hard to get people to make changes or even talk to them about having something to change. The best way to work with someone in this stage is to be a listening ear and provide them with resources that may assist them in seeing a need for change. When in this stage yourself, it might feel that you are okay with what you are currently doing and maybe even feel like others are nagging you. However, be open minded to both where the person is at in the pre-contemplative stage or being open to what others are saying if you think you are in the pre-contemplative stage. Being reflective on your choices and actions is always good for self-growth.
In the contemplative stage, people may be starting to think that there is something they might want to change. They may not know how to begin changing or they may still be unsure if they want to change but there is some acknowledgement that their current situation is not serving them in a positive way. When in this stage, support someone by helping them think about how changing will help them, validate where they feel unsure, and prepare small goals that the person can work towards. If it is yourself, make a list of how changing might help you or how it may be difficult, research about your situation and how other people have made changes. These are ways to move from contemplation to preparation.
When in the action stage, people have begun making changes. They have decided that it will be best for themselves to make a change and they are in the process of attempting to make those changes. Support yourself and others in this stage by trying your best, making attainable goals, and acknowledging that sometimes it might be a difficult process. If you do find yourself struggling to make your goals, try setting ones that feel more attainable and remember that it is okay to have to hit the reset button. In the maintenance stage, you have seen the effects of the action stage and your changes are part of your daily life. This does not mean that you can stop working or will not progress back into another stage. Just remember that it is okay to have to modify your progress and that going through these stages looks different for everyone. Thinking about and making changes is a difficult process, be kind to yourself and reach out for support when you need it!