Change Theory

And the Ultimate Outcome of New Year’s Resolutions

by Lisa Jacobson, MAPP (Masters, Applied Positive Psychology)
January 22, 2009

A handful of Ph.D.’s took a subject related to New Year’s resolutions rather seriously. They dedicated time and recourses studying and measuring a subject matter known as Change Theory. Here’s a quick synopsis of the study and their findings:

James Prochaska and his team of researches studied 1000 people who were able to positively and permanently change their behavior. Their findings indicated that change in behavior does not depend on willpower. Rather, it’s a process that can be successfully managed by most anyone who takes the time to learn and understand how change happens. In their book, Change for Good, they define six stages of change:

- Precontemplation
- Contemplation
- Preparation
- Action
- Maintenance
- Termination

People in this stage can’t see the problem - although their family, co-workers and friends see it. Typically, they are in denial. In short they resist change. When the problem surfaces, they avoid it. They lack information about the problem and enjoy their state of ignorant bliss.

Typically, people in this stage are tired of being stuck in a rut. They openly admit that they have a problem. They are in the stage of struggling to understand their problem. However, they could be far from actually making a commitment to do something about it. They know their destination, and even know how to navigate it, but are not quite ready to take on the task of the journey. It is not unusual for people remain stalled in this stage for years!

Most people in this stage are planning to take action in the near future and are making final adjustments. The important step here is to make a public pronouncement. “I will stop over-eating after the Super Bowl.” However, they have not resolved their ambivalence. They may still need to convince themselves that change is what is best for them. This is the stage where awareness is high. These people count their cigarettes and calories. Anticipation is ever present. The people who skip this stage are the ones who quit a habit “cold turkey”.

This is when people overtly change their behavior and modify their environment for success. They remove all snack food from the pantry and refrigerator. Changes made in this stage are the most public. Here’s the rub at this stage. Most people equate action with change. All action-oriented plans do not equal change. The danger here is when people drop out and give up on their plans. This is a time when they need a great deal of support.

Change never ends in the action stage. Maintenance is a critical time for consolidating all of the previous stages of change. Without a strong commitment to change, relapse is predictable.

Of course termination of a bad habit is the ultimate goal. At this stage, the old behavior is no longer present. This stage is hotly debated because there are those who believe that certain problems cannot be terminated - rather, kept at bay. While there are people who never take another drink or smoke another cigarette – the craving is usually not too distant.

Note: The stages of change are not linear. They operate more like a spiral that depicts ebb, flow and repetition.

Whatever change you’ve resolved to make, it’s a good idea to better understand a formula successful change - like this one. Taking the time to read this article about change is evidence that you are currently in the stage of contemplation and perhaps on your way towards positive change.

For more from Lisa Joacobson, please go to...

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