Behavior Change is a Process of Stages

behavioral disorder

Do you have a behavior that you would like to change? Keep in mind that change is a process, not a single event. It does not occur overnight, but rather, through defined stages.

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Acceptance

You will know if you are pre-contemplating changing a problem behavior if at least one of the following is accurate:

  • The behavior is causing you at least a little bit of distress at least from time to time.
  • You tried in the past to change the behavior and were unsuccessful.
  • The behavior is causing a loved one distress.


This first stage of change is a tricky one. During this stage, the notion of changing your behavior is in the unconscious. So, how can you know you need to change? Somewhere inside, there is an inkling that you are not as content with your problem behavior as you think. Or perhaps someone you know has been hinting that you should make a change.


During this stage, you notice your behavior and believe that it needs to change.

You know you are contemplating changing a behavior if you:

  • Want to change but fear changing behaviors
  • Wish that you could change the behavior

There are several things you can do at this stage of change. Most important is to take an inventory. Make a list of:

  • How important it is to you
  • What you want to have happen
  • What your new life would be like if you changed


In this stage you are committed to changing, you are motivated, and you are ready to get started. Making change without preparing for change can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, and, possibly failure. Create a detailed action plan to increase the likelihood of effective change.

  • Set concrete, realistic, measurable goals.
  • Consider what you have tried in the past and why it didn’t work.
  • Find out what others say has worked for them and decide if any of their suggestions might work for you.
  • Create the specific steps you will take to reach those goals.


Action is when someone who has been contemplating change actually does something different.This is where all the thinking and planning are finally put to the test.

Review the steps and goals you created as you were preparing to make this change. It is now time to take that first step.

Stay on track

  • Be honest with yourself and others about your progress and setbacks.
  • Ask for accountability and support from others.
  • Set up short-term rewards for success with each step.

Your preparation and commitment to following your action plan have paid off.


Maintenance occurs when the behavior change becomes part of your lifestyle. This is the downhill leg of the change process.

Here are some helpful strategies for maintaining change:

  • Review goals, accomplishments, and any setbacks each week. Be honest with yourself about your progress and setbacks.
  • Look for ways to improve your plan—ask others.
  • Stay in touch with your support team.
  • Learn more about your targeted behavior. Consider attending a workshop or conference.
  • Keep a private journal of your thoughts and feelings about your life as you journey through the change process.


Acceptance is a perceived perhaps the purest outcome of the maintenance stage. This is the spiritual aspect of the change process, and the one that is hardest to define and measure. Acceptance is that place you come to when you realize that you really had to make a change and, that you will be all right.


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