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Overcoming the Fear of Change

Understanding the 5 stages of change

How do you respond to change?  Do you embrace it with all that you have or do you avoid it at all costs?  Can I be honest with you?  Change is inevitable.  And no matter how good you might think you are at avoiding it or ignoring it, we all must make changes and adjustments throughout our lives.  

But how do we create meaningful and lasting change?  How long should it take?  And how do we avoid the fear of failure?  

According to psychologist James Prochaska, creator of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, individuals move (or change) when attempting to adjust old habits or form new behaviors.  This progression is not linear; we tend to move back and forth through the stages, recycling through until the change becomes fully established.  So what are these stages of change?

  • Precontemplation (I know I should): we are aware of the behavior we desire, but we have no intention of altering, changing, or stopping our current pattern of behavior.  What moves us out of this stage is motivation, which can be created by exploring, researching, or gaining a better understanding of the advantages of a change.
  • Contemplation (I want too):  This is the stage where we move from awareness to actual acknowledgment of the change needed and begin our own “inner debate” about pursuing change.  A lot of the time we remain stuck in this stage because we don’t know if it’s truly worth it to change.  What helps move us out of this phase is weighing out the “pros and cons”.  
  • Preparation (I can and I will):  At the preparation stage, we begin to take steps, or experiment with ways, to actually create change (i.e. buying a planner and filling it out).  The key to moving through this stage is our level of commitment; in order to keep commitment high and move forward through this stage, a good thing to remember is: always plan for contingencies.  The more detailed contingency plans you have, the easier it will be to stay on track and motivated.  
  • Action Stage (I am changing):  At this stage, our plan is in action and we have already begun making significant change; often time this reflects in adjustments made in our relationships, routines, environments, and of course, ourselves.  
  • Maintenance Stage (I am maintaining):  We know we are in the maintenance stage once our desired change is now a reality, and it has been for the past 6 months (hint hint…change takes time!)  The new behavior(s) are firmly established and the possibility of old behaviors, or patterns, returning becomes less and less with each passing day.  

Change is inevitable and we all change in our own way and time.  But it can be helpful to understand where we are in these stages, so we can better understand what we need to move forward.  So, when it comes to changes you are making (or thinking about making) in your life, what stage are you in?  What is keeping you in that stage?  What is preventing you from moving forward?  

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Sarah Howard

Sarah is a Licensed Professional Counselor - Intern, Supervised by Huston McComb, MA, LPC-S. Sarah enjoys working with young adults, adults and couples.
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