Posted November 2. 2016

It’s hard to believe that another year is just about in the books. It won’t be long until January is here and we will all be thinking again about the changes we want to make in our lives. The problem is that change is difficult. Old habits die hard. That’s why so many resolutions fail. People have good intentions but the truth is they may not be ready to change. Real change is a process. Consider the following stages and where you or someone you love might be in the process of change:

Stage One: Pre-Contemplation

In the pre-contemplation stage, people are not thinking seriously about changing and are not interested in any kind of help. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They may be defensive in the face of other people’s efforts to pressure them to quit. They may even blame their problems on others or deflect attention away from themselves by pointing out the failures in others. This stage is commonly referred to as denial. 

Stage Two: Contemplation

In the contemplation stage people are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habit and they spend time thinking about their problem. Although they are able to consider the possibility of changing, they tend to be ambivalent about it. 

In this stage, people are on a teeter-totter, weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behaviour. Although they think about the negative aspects of their bad habit and the positives associated with giving it up, or reducing it, they may doubt that the long-term benefits associated with quitting will outweigh the short-term costs. 

It might take as little as a couple weeks or as long as a lifetime to get through the contemplation stage. In fact, some people think and think and think about giving up their bad habit and may die never having gotten beyond this stage. On the plus side, people are more open to receiving information about their bad habit, and more likely to actually use educational interventions and reflect on their own feelings and thoughts concerning their bad habit. 

Stage Three: Preparation

In the preparation stage, people have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as: “I’ve got to do something about this — this is serious. Something has to change. What can I do?” This is sort of a research phase: people are now taking small steps toward cessation. They are trying to gather information about what they will need to do to change their behaviour.  They may call a lot of clinics, trying to find out what strategies and resources are available to help them in their attempt. Too often, people skip this stage: they try to move directly from contemplation into action and fall flat on their faces because they haven’t adequately researched or accepted what it is going to take to make this major lifestyle change. 

Stage Four: Action

This is the stage where people believe they have the ability to change their behaviour and are actively involved in taking steps to change their bad behaviour by using a variety of different techniques. 

This is the shortest of all the stages. The amount of time people spend in action varies. It generally lasts about 6 months, but it can literally be as short as one hour! This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change the behaviour and are at greatest risk for relapse. People in this stage also tend to be open to receiving help and are also likely to seek support from others (a very important element). Hopefully, people will then move to: 

Stage Five: Maintenance

Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habit. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo. People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made. 

People in maintenance constantly reformulate the rules of their lives and are acquiring new skills to deal with life and avoid relapse. They are able to anticipate the situations in which a relapse could occur and prepare coping strategies in advance. They remain aware that what they are striving for is personally worthwhile and meaningful. They are patient with themselves and recognize that it often takes a while to let go of old behaviour patterns and practice new ones until they are second nature to them. Even though they may have thoughts of returning to their old bad habits, they resist the temptation and stay on track. 

As you progress through your own stages of change, it can be helpful to re-evaluate your progress in moving up and down through these stages. It’s normal and natural to regress, to attain one stage only to fall back to a previous stage. This is just a normal part of making changes in your behaviour. Old habits do die hard. But don’t give up! Set yourself up for the best year ahead ever!

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Old Habits Die Hard

Pacific Family Life Counselling