The 6 Stages of Change To Create the Life You Want
Meaningful change is intimidating. What happens when we realize jobs, relationships, or lives aren’t what we want in our heart of hearts?
Resilience is forged in the fire of determination. It’s the courage to take action when facing fear and resistance. Although sometimes we’d like it to be easy, all meaningful change ignites fear and resistance to some degree. Self-actualization — the manifestation of our full potential — is a long, painful process for this very reason.
A potential pitfall I’ve noticed with spiritual practice, is that it can become excessively inward focused.
Picture the monk in a cave in the Himalayas, with no external distractions and days filled with hours and hours of meditation
Meditation increases self-awareness and awareness is a catalyst to meaningful change. But unless you pair awareness with action, you’ll freeze at this step.
Changing your behavior is a courageous leap, particularly when you realize that your life are out of alignment. Building an authentic life is an immense challenge; and it’s the path few take.
But it’s essential for living a fulfilling life.
Are you ready to change?
Face your fear to create the life you want
Meaningful change is intimidating. What happens when we realize jobs, relationships, or life situations aren’t what we want in our heart of hearts?
Such realizations can trigger all kinds of fear-based responses in the ego. We fear rejection, loss, or failure.
But it’s crucial to mix spiritual intelligence with getting stuff done, right? We aren’t here to play small, but to live fully and authentically. This takes an immense amount of courage and effort. And in my experience, it requires a smart, structured approach.
This is where behavioral psychology comes in. I find immense value in Prochaska and DiClemente’s model of behavioural change, The Stages of Change Model (also known as the Transtheoretical Model). The model was developed in the 1970s by examining people who successfully quit smoking.
Typically, change is seen as all-or-nothing
The Stages of Change model provides a different approach. Progress in this framework is cyclical. Moving up and down stages is common. By understanding this model, you’re more likely to stick to new habits, and avoid self-sabotage or perfectionism.
Prochaska and DiClemente formed this based on healthy habits, but it’s just as applicable to our dreams and deepest desires, including self-actualization. I recommend using this model as a journaling tool (or discussing it with a coach) for various areas of change.
Let’s look at each stage in detail:
Precontemplation is the point before you even entertain change as a possibility.
There’s zero awareness around the need to change; perhaps due to denial or ignorance.
At this stage, you have no thought of changing, even if others see the need for change.
Without awareness, you may underestimate how problematic a certain behavior (or lack of behavior) is, while emphasizing the drawbacks of making change. Applied to self-actualization, pre-contemplation is intertwined with shadow work.
Ignoring or denying the shadow self, anger, or jealousy makes contemplation impossible.
Contemplation is the moment of awareness; the lifting of the veil.
This stage is balanced: you equally assess the pros and cons of making change.
When contemplating behavioural change at this stage, you may feel hesitation and doubt. A common example is setting boundaries; a fundamental practice in living authentically.
Communication is key, yet the build-up to such conversations can take a while. There can be lots of contemplation before finding the courage to set boundaries — particularly with those you love.
The preparation stage is the beginning of exploration.
Using boundary-setting as an example, you may reflect on what your needs are, what needs have to be communicated, and what you’ll say to communicate them. You may buy books on communication rely on your support system for guidance.
We’ll refer to this as the information-gathering stage, or the “Google it” stage.
By this stage, there’s a clear determination to take action in the near future.
A common example with physical health would be researching gym plans, looking up exercise routines, or prepping the cupboards to start eating healthier.
This is the “Just Do It” moment of change.
It’s crucal that your actions are congruent with your values and authentic desires. I say this because, many times in my life, I’ve pursued goals or taken action due to ego-driven desires.
A common misperception is to view this as the final stage of change.
Believing the moment of action is “final” leads to setbacks and complacency. Your action has to be repeated.
Sticking to the new action and developing consistency is the true test.
Remember: the Stage of Change is a spiral model. What this means is, you’re expected to oscillate between stages, rather than consistently progress.
Keep in mind there’s a significant difference between a lapse and total relapse.
And, remember: in all big changes, there will be lapses. Lapses are guaranteed! You may reach the action stage, face setbacks, and return to contemplation. Be kind when this happens.
Most people slip up at this point because they see progress as linear, and change as a success or failure.
Rather than seeing setbacks as failure, it’s much easier to recognize the setback as a lapse, and take action to correct the behavior as soon as you can.
If you find yourself spiralling to an earlier stage, it’s a good time to reassess your goals.
Were they aligned with your deepest wants and needs, or from a place of ego? What can you do better? Do you need more tools or support systems in place? Reflect without judgement.
To remain vigilant, self-monitoring is needed. Applied to a diet, this could be counting calories or checking weight loss. Spiritual growth isn’t as easy to define; but it could involve commitment to a meditation practice, journaling to see progress, or remaining self-aware to ego-triggers and behavioral patterns.
At this stage your new behavior is ingrained and habitual. However, it’s important to note this stage is often not included in health promotion programs because it’s incredibly rare.
It’s likely most of us will be at a stage of consistent maintenance
This is apt for the process of self-actualization. Ego-driven desires and impulses may remain, to some degree, throughout our lives. We just become much better at handling them and choosing to live from a place of heart instead.
I almost decided not to include this stage purely because the ego can play tricks and decide you’ve reached termination stage as a way to breed carelessness. But with this new perspective on change, I hope you’re able to progress and avoid excessive self-criticism on the path to creating the life you want.
It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.