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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ashley Jacobson

Making Behavior Change: Understanding the Stages of Change

When it comes to changing behavior, there are 6 stages of change that an individual can go through. The stages of change, otherwise known as the Transtheoretical Model of Change indicates that healthy behavior change occurs through the progressions of different stages of change, which include: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.

If either you or a loved one is in the process of changing a behavior, it can be helpful to understand which level of change you are at and how to progress to the next level. Additionally, your perception of change (I.e, altering diet or increasing exercise) transforms over time. For example, we may see more cons than pros in the beginning stages, but overtime, the balance shifts, and you will start to see the increased benefits to behavioral change. The 6 stages of change are outlined below.


In this stage, people do not intend to take action for behavior change in the foreseeable future. Typically in this stage, people are often unaware that their behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. People in this stage often underestimate the pros of changing behavior and place much of their emphasis on the cons of changing behavior. Further, people in this stage tend to defend their current behavior’s. This stage if characterized by denial and failing to recognize the need for change. Individuals in this stage might have made previous attempts to change their behavior, but have since given up. Someone in this stage might make statements such as “I don’t need to change” or “I don’t have a problem.” If someone is in this stage, their next steps would include evaluating current behavior and thinking about what they want.


In this stage, people are usually experiencing ambivalence about changing their behavior. An individual in this stage recognizes that their behavior may be problematic and a more thoughtful and practical consideration of the pros and cons of changing the behavior takes place, with equal emphasis placed on both. However, the individual in this stage is still hesitant to make behavior change and the problem behavior continues. People in this stage might seem like they are “sitting on the fence” and unsure about behavior change. If someone is in this stage, to help progress to the next stage, they would want to clarify their decision, evaluate the pros and cons of behavior change, and identify and promote new and positive outcome expectations.



During this stage, the individual has decided to change their behavior and they begin thinking about how they are going to make the change. In this stage, you will see individuals begin to make minor changes to support their goal, but the unwanted behavior might still show up. Additionally, during this stage, people believe that changing their behavior will lead to positive/healthy change. You might see people making statements such as “I’ve got to do something about this, this is serious.” This stage can also be seen as a “research phase”, in which people are gathering information about what they will need to do to change their behavior. They may check out websites, organizations, and resources that are available to them. When someone is in this stage, they should focus on restructuring social support, improving self efficacy, and process feelings associated with change.


During this change, there are significant steps taken to end the problem behavior. People at this stage have recently changed their behavior and intend to keep moving forward with their behavior change. Other characteristics of this stage include people avoiding triggers, reaching out for help, or taking other steps to avoid temptation. When someone is in this stage, they are motivated to change and taking active steps (typically lasting about 6 months).


When someone enters the maintenance stage, the changes made during the action stage are maintained (more than 6 months) and they intend to maintain the behavior change moving forward. During this stage, people are working to prevent relapse to earlier stages. When someone is in the maintenance stage, they should be taking steps to plan for follow-up support and have a plan to cope if relapse occurs.


When people reach this stage, they have no desire to return to their unhealthy behaviors and are sure that they will not relapse. It is important to note, that people tend to stay in the maintenance stage and this is not a target stage that needs to be reached.



Relapse occurs when someone returns to their previous problem behavior after they have made changes. Relapse can happen at anytime during any of the stages of change. It is important to note that not everyone will experience relapse, but it is a risk and is often part of the process of behavior change. If someone has fallen into relapse, it is best to evaluate triggers and reassess motivation and barriers to change.

When it comes to behavior change, there are many factors that can impact someone’s ability to change. One crucial factor is self-efficacy, which is the belief in our ability to change. Self-efficacy is key in planning and executing the actions that are required to meet the goals that are set and to fight the temptation to relapse. Thus, when individuals have higher levels of self-efficacy, they tend to be better at accepting challenges and persisting in overcoming obstacles. Another key aspect that impacts behavior change is someone’s perception of the pros and cons of modifying their behavior. Individuals must balance the pros and cons to decide whether to continue their journey with behavior change.

When To Seek Additional Support

Having support is crucial when it comes to making behavior change. A therapist can help individuals progress through the stages of change and provide a space to process emotions associated with behavior change as well as provide healthy coping skills for managing change.

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting individuals navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.


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