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The 5 Stages of Change: What Stage Are You In?

Last Updated on November 13, 2018 by Inspire Malibu

Most people claim that they don’t like change, which is understandable. Even in the worst of situations, people grow comfortable where they are because they know what to expect. Fear of the unknown is so powerful that many of us are willing to accept a less than ideal life on the basis that it’s familiar and, well, we’re used to it.

The truth, though, is that we never stop changing. Personality traits change systematically through a person’s lifespan, and sometimes even more so after the age of 30, according to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association. These can be negative or positive changes.

Regardless of whatever it is someone wants to adjust in their life, there are 5 stages of change that occur for everyone during this process.

Stages of Change

What are the Five Stages of Change?

1. Pre-contemplation:

During this very first phase, a person generally has no idea that they need or want a change in their life. This holds true even when those around them might be hinting at or suggesting that they have a problem or should maybe adjust their behavior.

2. Contemplation:

In this stage, a person still hasn’t admitted that they want to make change. However, they find themselves pondering the idea of changing their lives, how easy or difficult that might be, and what the positive or negative outcome would look and feel like.

3. Preparation:

At this point, an individual knows that they’d like their situation to be different from what it is currently. That being said, many people can get stuck in preparation for a long period of time, knowing that they’d like to make a change, but finding themselves unable or unwilling to take the initial steps.

4. Action:

Here, a person is moving forward, modifying their environment, behavior, or experiences. This can be a difficult stage for people because of the discomfort, or sometimes, actual pain in leaving a habit behind.

5. Maintenance:

In this final stage, change has occurred. During this period a person might be able see some of the positive outcomes of their new action, but acknowledge that it still takes work to maintain their new life.

Addiction Treatment And The Stages of Change

For a person suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, change is sometimes impossible without professional intervention because addiction literally changes the structure and function of the brain.

For real behavioral change to occur, the brain’s chemistry must be brought into balance again through proper therapy and possibly medication.

Here’s the rub: for a person to get medical help for their addiction, they must take action, which is step 4 of the stages of change. Many people in need of treatment aren’t even in stage 1 of pre-contemplation yet.

If they have no idea they need treatment or possibly have a problem, they’re a long way from changing their behavior.

Often the most difficult part of changing behavior for people addicted to drugs or alcohol is to recognize there is a problem and move through the stages of change to stage 4 of taking action, getting treatment, and moving on to stage 5 of maintenance. From that point, the cycle continues and begins again.

Even if a person relapses and falls into their old ways and uses drugs or alcohol again, they will be faced with beginning at stage 1 once more. Fortunately, if they recognize they slipped, and it wasn’t too far, getting back on track might be easier the next time around because they know getting to stage 5 is possible.

Recognizing and understanding that the five stages of change are a natural progression that everyone will encounter as they move through life makes it easier to change any behavior.

It also makes it easier for those who will help those that need to change, know where they are in the cycle and motivate them through the stages.

The stages of change never ends. Successfully mastering change in one area of life sets the tone for moving on to another area of life that can be changed. Over time, all of the changes add up and real progress can be realized.


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