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6 Steps to Change Your Life—If You're Ready

The “stages of change” model can help you tackle a target behavior.

Behavioral change can be hard no matter what it is. Whether it’s eating better, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, or anything else, change can be difficult.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change presents a systematic approach to behavioral change and outlines six phases which, if completed, can result in successfully transforming the undesirable behavior into a desirable one.

As an example, let’s look at the Transtheoretical Model of Change (TMC) through the eyes of “Sarah” who is overweight, but wants to become healthier though diet and exercise.

Phase 1 – Precontemplation: Sarah is overweight and not eating healthy. She is not thinking or acting on changing her behavior. She may be unaware of the dangers of being overweight, may not be motivated or lack the confidence to change her behavior. In precontemplation, she may also not want to read, talk about, or acknowledge her weight problem. In general, a person in precontemplation is at least six months away from actually making any significant behavior modifications.

Phase 2 – Contemplation: Sarah has come to the realization that she has a weight problem and now wants to do something about it. She knows that if she can lose weight and exercise more that she will feel better and be able to do more activities with her family. In the contemplation phase, more people are ready to take action in less than six months.

Phase 3 – Preparation: Now that Sarah has acknowledged her problem, she begins the preparation phase by making small changes in her behavior. She has put some plans in place to help her exercise more and eat a balanced diet, but she is worried that it will not work. People in the  preparation phase are removing barriers to their behavior change and getting ready for the next step.

Phase 4 – Action: In the action phase, Sarah puts her plan in place and outwardly makes behavior modifications. She has let her family and friends know that she is working towards losing weight. She has joined a gym and hired a personal trainer to help her with her fitness goals. She has signed up for two nutrition/cooking classes, and no longer eats late at night. During the action phase, it takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to make a plan work.

Phase 5 – Maintenance: Sarah has been going to the gym and eating healthier for the past six months. She is feeling more confident about her new life choices. She knows that if she slips up or has a setback that she has the ability to restart and get back on track. In the maintenance phase, people feel the benefit of their new behavior changes and can maintain them for six months or longer.

Phase 6 – Termination: Sarah has been enjoying her new healthy life style for so many years now that she doesn’t fear relapse or regression. The new behavior is so ingrained and natural she doesn’t even have to think about it.

Depending on the behavior, not everyone reaches the termination phase, but the goal is to work toward developing new habits and behaviors that become natural for you.

The TMC can be applied to almost any desired behavior change. The steps will help you prepare for success and help you restart if you have a relapse.

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