Billy's Thoughts

The Stages of Change

Posted on Mar 23, 2024 — 2 mins read

One of my absolute favourite mental models is the one that describes change, called Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change.

Essentially, it describes the stages of change as:

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

Pre-contemplation is when you aren’t even considering making a change, or you’re not aware that you are.

Contemplation is when you’re thinking about change, toying with the idea, making pros/cons lists for fun, etc. “What if I was like this instead, what would that be like?”

Preparation is, I’d say, when you’re >51% decided that you want to change, and you’re taking steps to try and make the change.

Action and Maintenance are self-explanatory I think.

from the wiki page

Besides putting words to the sometimes foggy and frustrating periods when you’re flip-flopping or procrastinating on making a decision, there are a few extensions of this model that I’ve found extremely helpful:

Most of the effort of making change is in the Contemplation and Preparation phases. We’re talking months to years sometimes. The internal debates are normal! They’re part of the process of, well, processing and reaching a decision you feel good about.

IME, it’s also totally normal to oscillate between the Contemplation and Preparation phases. Preparation and logistical planning might surface new information and new decisions to be made, which might require further Contemplation. This is part of the process too.

And there is no way to force it; you can’t just decide you’re done with Contemplation and Preparation until you are.1 The older I get, the more I view this as a sort of heart-readiness, instead of a logical readiness. All the pros/cons lists in the world, or the most sound and cogent arguments from others, might not actually move you (beyond maybe adding to the feeling of “man I really should do this huh”, which is also not what we want).

Maybe the short of it is to just be kinder to yourself when trying to make change. You’re ready when you’re ready, and until then do the best you can each day.

  1. While you can’t force yourself through the Contemplation stage especially, I do think there are ways to (greatly) speed up the process while staying true to yourself: by developing a deeper understanding of yourself and your desires. What is most important to you? Introspection helps a lot with this, but so does having a friend (or therapist, or coach) asking the exact right type of questions to draw this out of you. ↩︎