6 Stages of Change: Taking Control of Your Life One Step at a Time

Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. practices acupuncture in Reston, Virginia, Bethesda, Maryland and in Washington D.C.

Making important changes in our lives can sometimes be more difficult than we think.

To make lasting changes occur, we need to see the steps it takes to get to the goal, not just the single decision to act. Making a choice to try acupuncture or other forms of therapy isn’t a magic pill, a person has to be ready to commit to the entire process of change. Researchers say that only 20 percent of people looking to change their unhealthy patterns or limiting behaviors are truly prepared to do so.

Preparation is the key for successfully changing your life.

There are six stages of change, in which making that appointment or committing to a series of life coaching or wellness sessions is in the mix, but not the first step. Being prepared for life changes gives you a better chance of staying the course and not falling back into those old habits. In Changing for Good [LINK], Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente show us a six-stage model of change, with each stage’s needs in terms of support and understanding.

Stage One of Change: Pre-contemplation

You may not even realize you are in this stage, or have passed it until its already gone. Your friends, spouse or a doctor may be suggesting you make better decisions in your life, like losing weight, quitting smoking or beginning to exercise. At first, you’re probably not too open to change or even hearing about it from those around you. It may seem like too much work for you, or that you won’t get much benefit from making changes.

If you are naturally apprehensive or agitated when someone suggests an acupuncturist, counselor or life and wellness coach, try to remain open to the experience. Don’t change the subject, but listen, even if you have no intention of taking action. Consider the potential benefits of changing that behavior, and do your own research on your own time.

Stage Two of Change: Contemplation

This is where you may realize that you could benefit from the changes available through acupuncture, counseling or life and wellness coaching – or any other type of positive changes. You may also hesitate because you don’t know how to get started, or time or money is an issue. Gathering all the information you can during this stage can be a huge benefit when or if you choose to move forward. That information can include new perspectives from people you know or experts in the field (books, articles online or real-world lectures, for example).

If you take that information and see how it connects to your core values, you can easily increase your enthusiasm and motivation for change. You can also visualize your life once those changes are part of your regular lifestyle, including questions like:

• What will you look and feel like?
• What will you be doing differently?

You may find yourself faced with unaddressed needs, obstacles and worries during this time. Allowing yourself the time for further exploration or the support of a life or wellness coach can be a big help in transitioning from the full understanding of the contemplation state to the preparation stage.

Stage Three of Change: Preparation

Now that you’ve decided the benefits of change outweigh the costs or effort, you’re ready to take action. You’ve probably already taken some small steps (gathering information counts!). This stage helps you to build confidence and prepare for any challenges and obstacles you may face when making changes. You are in the action planning stage.

Being properly prepared and ready to put your plan into action will help you avoid mistakes, or have the tools needed to cope with those mistakes. There is a natural back-and-forth pattern that can occur when putting new changes into place, causing discouragement or ambivalence. When you get into the planning stage, a life and wellness coach and/or the support of those around you can make all the difference.

When you feel ready to take those steps, whether counseling, joining a gym or calling an acupuncturist, you’re in the preparation stage for change. You’re beginning to clean out those old patterns (like, throwing away junk food to prepare for a new, healthier way of eating) and building your motivation for the action stage. You can draw up a contract with yourself or seek the accountability of a loved one, friend or life and wellness coach to keep you on task. This is a good time to speak your commitment publicly, as well.

Stage Four of Change: Action

You’ve gathered information, made a commitment and now you’re moving forward into the action phase of change. It is time to DO IT. This is where your self-confidence from all of the other stages creates a stronger commitment to your personal changes. You’ve probably already started life or wellness coaching, acupuncture or had a session with a fitness trainer. At this stage, you need to focus on your progress, not perfection. You’re learning to adjust your plan as needed and not letting obstacles get in your way, or get you down.

This stage has an essential need for outside support – whether from a life or wellness coach, your family and friends or any other system that will keep cheering you to victory. You should have built rewards into your plan (and if you didn’t, now’s the time for a reward!).

In the long term, it is vital that you keep your eye on the goal. Missing a day of exercise or allowing yourself to eat cake at a party isn’t the end of your new commitment. You also need to accept that you are human and perfection is just a concept, that that isn’t practical given the nature of our day-to-day lives. You may also encounter others who are not supporting your goals or even those who seem bent on destroying your progress. Just remember to keep visualizing your success when any obstacle occurs and listen to those insights and intuitions that are likely to pop up as your best source of guidance. You haven’t totally succeeded in stopping the behavior, but you’re a long way toward that goal – congratulate yourself and keep moving forward!

Stage Five of Change: Maintenance

The maintenance phase typically begins around the sixth month when new behaviors and actions become routine. You’ve integrated the changes into your sense of identity and it is reflected in your lifestyle and social life. As you have become more consistent with new habits, you’re more confident in your decision and your new lifestyle. However, you are still at a risk for relapse, especially during stressful times, major life changes or crisis moments where you feel a lack of emotional support.

You are your greatest source of support through these harder times, as you’ve already made such great strides and knew there would be curveballs during the process. Any new obstacle or challenge on your path to wellness can be treated as an opportunity to learn new skills. At some point, you may even realize that finally, those old habits are in the past.

Stage Six of Change: Termination

This is the final stage of change, one that is reached after two or more years of maintaining your new behaviors. Once you reach termination, you have little worry about reverting back to old habits, especially since you are now a different you. You can say you met your change head on and mastered the art of change, and you can apply your journey to new issues that pop up in your life.

Acupuncture, life and wellness coaching or counseling can be a source of support during each stage of change.

With the Prochaska model and my own experience helping others make positive life changes, it is vital to remember that change is possible. Understand where you are in terms of making that change and start from there. Take small steps, get the right support system in place and keep heading in the direction you have chosen. Your progress, no matter how small, is a reward that brings further growth, knowledge and self-awareness.

Dr. Carlos Durana offers acupuncture, life and wellness coaching/counseling in Bethesda, Northern Virginia, Reston and DC.  He is ready to assist you in making positive life changes, breaking habits and living a better, more satisfactory life!

Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. practices acupuncture in Washington D.C., Reston, Virginia, Bethesda, and in Maryland.

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