“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." - Socrates
So you’ve made a resolution and feel ready to transform. This is your year!
But how do you keep positivity and motivation lasting past January 15th? Let’s talk about the well researched transtheoretical model of behavior change because understanding this theory will shed new light on progress, discipline and relapse. It’s wise to prepare your mind for the inevitably complex journey of intentionally changing your habits.
Researchers Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska created this five-stage model of change. According to The University of Maryland Habits Lab, the defining characteristic moving people through these stages, both backwards and forwards, is a person’s Pro and Con thinking or what they call “decisional balance.”
A large part of changing behavior involves understanding and guiding yourself through these Pros and Cons, with awareness, instead of letting them subconsciously run the behavior-change show.
Here are the stages:
Precontemplation: There’s no reason to change. This stage isn’t where the unmotivated live, it’s where those with other priorities dwell. There is simply nothing in the Pro column for behavioral change.
“Hey, Sue, you think maybe you should cut back on drinking?”
“Nah. I’m just having fun. Living my life. Carpe Diem.”
Contemplation: Enter awareness of the Pros, but they don’t necessarily trump Cons. Many dwell in this stage for a long time, and it represents ambivalence.
“I should really exercise and eat healthier. I’m not getting any younger. It’s probably about time for me to do something about all this.” But, you don’t, because of the Cons, thought about actively or not. Most in this stage are not making Pro and Con lists, but you may be approaching a donut box voicing Cons such as, “I look fine. This isn’t about deprivation, it’s about balance.”
Preparation: You’ve wrestled with ambivalence, justifications, and now you see clearly the Pros outweigh the Cons. Time to do something! This is where most New Year’s resolutions reside -- the Fitbit is bought, the meal plans crafted, the running shoes purchased. However, this is a place where the UMBC Habit Lab says, “Preparers often have a plan of action, but may not be entirely committed to their plan.”
Action: You’re doing it! Although this is stage 4 of 5, the psychologists see it more as “The Middle” of behavioral change. Those in this stage will wrestle often with the Pro and Con balance as they run into old habits, which is why this stage is where all the challenges, regressions and relapses lie.
UMBC Habit Lab studies relapse and says the source of it is often a person’s lack of confidence or esteem: “Relapse often occurs in situations where feelings of temptation trumps an individual’s sense of self-efficacy to maintain the desired behavioral change.”
To fight this, psychologists recommend helpful habit work including rewarding positive change, finding helping relationships, substituting positive behavior for problem ones, controlling triggers and building confidence and esteem.
Maintenance: Once you hit the goal and cross the threshold of six months at said goal, you get to call it maintenance, but you never get to let your guard down. While the habits have changed, a lot of the old motivations behind them lurk within. The good news is experts see relapse at this stage as more easily overcome since you’re practiced in habit change and have a solidly justified Pro column.
So keep this construct in mind and use it to identify your Pro and Con thinking, build motivation, esteem and better understanding about relapse. And, for more on change, check out our latest article -- Transformation Through Intention, Action, and Patience.
Happy New Year!