Cognitive Stages of Change

Every January marks a time where many Americans start acting on change. Many of us pick a New Year’s resolution and choose this month to get started. However, many fail to maintain long-term change. Why is that? There are many reasons, but a common one is that we don’t begin at the beginning!

According to the Transtheoretical Model, we go through FIVE mental stages to create and maintain a behavioral change. Let’s explore this model and, if you have a New Year’s Resolution, I encourage you to use it to help you break down your resolution into a plan based on what stage you’re starting in today vs. jumping right to the change itself. 

Below are the 5 stages and recommendations for how to start changing if you’re in that stage. 

  • Stage 1: Precontemplation You have not yet decided to take action. You might not even have recognized that change needs to happen. 

Where to start: Reflect on your actions and analyze the risk involved.

  • Stage 2: Contemplation You are now aware of the need for change but often feel conflicted about taking action.

Where to start: Make a list of the barriers that make you hesitant to act.

  • Stage 3: Preparation You are gaining more information about what it will take to change and might even experiment with small changes.

Where to start: Write down your goals and make a realistic plan!

  • Stage 4: Action You are doing what you intended to do, living the change.

What to do: Rewards and support from others can be the biggest help when it comes to new changes. 

  • Stage 5: Maintenance You are doing just that, maintaining and avoiding the temptation to revert back to old habits.

What to do: Continue with all you did in Stage 4 and have some backup strategies to help you get back on track if you stray.

Now, let’s use getting on a regular exercise routine as an example of a desired change. Say you jump right into Stage 4 – Action – and are trying to exercise on a regular basis when you never have before. If you skipped the preparation involved in Stages 2 and 3, you would not have contemplated such important factors as days of the week and times of day that work with your schedule or what types of exercise you truly enjoy. Essentially, you’ve set yourself up to fail. By moving through the stages in order, you’re using them as a sturdy foundation for sustainable change.

No matter what stage of change you’re in, find us on Social Media where we have a Facebook group that can help you commit to change when it comes to exercise. Let’s make 2022 you’re strongest year yet!

~ Blaire Brown, PT, DPT, OCS, SST,
FITFOREVER Expert Trainer