Whatever health-related habit you’d like to adopt, psychologist James Prochaska’s research can help. Prochaska’s father died from alcoholism, motivating him to research whether there was a way people can learn how to break bad habits and introduce new, healthier ones.
Prochaska observed people who had successfully changed a habit and developed a way of understanding how they were able to be successful. He came up with a six-stage model that defines the process of change.
Stage 1 – Pre-contemplation
At this stage, a person hasn’t decided yet to make a change. Let’s use Maria as an example of a person transitioning from a diet full of processed food to a fruit and vegetable rich diet. At the pre-contemplation stage, Maria hasn’t yet decided to change her diet to a healthier one. She may know that all those breakfast pastries and fast food burgers are not ideal, but she hasn’t given any real thought to making a change at this stage.
To move out of Stage 1, Maria might do some research on the effects of eating a lot of processed foods and the benefits of consuming more fruits and vegetables. She still hasn’t decided anything, but at least she’s thinking about the situation.
Stage 2 – Contemplation
At this stage, Maria is actively considering making a change, maybe starting to juice or to swap her typical breakfast for a green smoothie, but she hasn’t actually taken any action. Some people get stuck in this phase for a long time. It’s important to recognize if you’ve been thinking about making a change in a health habit for a long time but haven’t taken any action, you’re probably stuck in Stage 2.
Stage 3 – Preparation
Here’s where thought starts shifting into action. Maybe Maria will buy a juicer or a blender. She’ll make a plan to add more fruits and vegetables to her daily meals. She’ll find a few new recipes. Maybe she’ll tell her closest friends about the change she’s about to make.
At this stage, it’s good to set up 2-3 short-term goals for yourself and how you’ll reward yourself if you meet them. It’s good to set an achievable goal so you can build on your success. So Maria might decide that her first goal will be to have a green smoothie two mornings a week for the next two weeks.
Stage 4 – Action
This is where you put your plan into action. It won’t be such a big leap because you’ve spent time putting the pieces into place. At this stage, Maria needs to make sure she always has the fresh produce she needs in the house to make her green smoothies and salads.
Stage 5 – Maintenance
Stage 5 is where the new habit gradually becomes integrated into your life. You’ve done your new healthy habit dozens, if not hundreds of times. It’s becoming part of your life. At this stage, Maria no longer feels self-conscious buying chia seeds for her green smoothies.
Stage 6 – Recycling
This is where your new habit is just how you live your life. Thumbs up! You’ve made a change for the better. If you slip, you know exactly what to do to get back on track. And you’ve come to understand that, as Dr. Prochaska says, change is a process, not an event.