One cold winter’s day, a student told his teacher he had found harmony and therefore would not be making any further changes in life. She smiled and said, “The still and calm pond appears harmonious until its very stillness results in stagnation. It is the rhythm, the bubble and the sparkle of the stream that is constantly moving and changing which results in harmony. Are you the stream or the pond?” We’d all like to be the stream and proudly say that we can embrace change and all it stands for. However, we know that sometimes… even when we know we should change… we don’t. Why is that?

Two researchers, Prochaska and Diclemente postulated a cycle that people go through when they implement change in their lives. Although the length of the cycle varies with each individual, once a person enters the cycle for a particular change, it usually lasts for about 12 months. Understanding the cycle of change that people go through can help you to discover where you are in the cycle and what it will take for you to move to the next stage.

The stages in the cycle of change are:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse (Not everyone does this one)
  • Exit

Let’s consider each stage of the cycle.

  • The pre-contemplation stage: This is the stage where you don’t see any reason to change so you don’t. You will move out of this stage only when you get a personally compelling reason to do so. For example, losing your house may be a personally compelling reason to change a gambling habit for one person, but it won’t be enough for another. Until you can find a personally compelling reason (i.e. something that compels you and not someone else, you will not enter the cycle and will not make change in your life.
  • The contemplation stage: The contemplation stage can last for up to nine months and is the stage where you consider the issue and making change in your life. You will need motivation and determination to move into the next stage. You can help yourself to do this by identifying the resources you have and setting goals associated with the outcomes you would like as a result of the change you would like to make.
  • The action stage: During the action stage of the cycle you implement the change in your life. You will find it relatively easy to maintain this phase for as long as it remains a novelty (usually about three months).
  • The maintenance stage: After you have been in the action stage for a while, you will naturally move into the maintenance stage of the cycle. This is the stage where you monitor your success to date and adjust your actions if needed. If the change has been successfully implemented (as an unconscious behavior) you will exit the cycle of change. If things aren’t progressing as well as you hoped, you will implement changes so you can successfully exit the cycle at a future stage… or you may go into the relapse stage.
  • The relapse stage: Not everyone enters the relapse stage. Some people successfully integrate the change into their lives on their first attempt and exit the cycle. If you have not fully integrated the change into your life, you may have a relapse into your previous behavior. At this point, you may also be giving yourself a ‘test’ to see whether you have been successful. For example, an alcoholic may go out with friends to see if she can have just one drink.

After a relapse you will return to either the contemplation or the action stage of the cycle. You do not enter the pre-contemplation stage again as once you have considered the issue it can never again be unconsidered. Your way of looking at the world has changed forever. Regardless of where you re-enter the cycle, you are better off than you were before as you now have more information about your personal habits, barriers, boundaries and strengths than you had before you entered the cycle. You also have a better understanding of what is likely to trigger a future relapse. Once you re-enter the action stage of the cycle, you will usually stay there until you exit.

In summary you can see that if you wish to make change in your life, you won’t do so until you find a reason that personally compels you (not someone else) to make the change. But once you have done so and you have entered the cycle of change, you will eventually make the change in your life.