How Do the Stages of Change Model Aid in Habit Change?

There’s no denying that change is challenging. It’s difficult to break old habits, and adjusting to a new way of life might feel like an uphill battle. On the other hand, understanding the Stages of Change Model can assist you in making long-term changes in your life.

The science underpinning personal development is explained by the Stages of Change Model. You’ll learn why some changes stick and why others don’t, as well as how long it takes to form new habits.

1. What Is the Stages of Change Model?

The Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was developed by scholars J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and documented in their book Changing For Good. It was produced as a result of the authors’ studies with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were initially curious about why some smokers were able to quit on their own while others needed expert assistance. Their main finding was that smokers (or anyone else who has a poor habit) only quit when they are ready.

Here’s an artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone[2] depicting the various stages a smoker goes through when attempting to quit.

Stages of change model for smokers

The Stages of Change Model examines how these deliberate choices are made. It underlines that people can become stuck in a stage for a long period, and some may never achieve their goals. [3]

The model has been used to treat smoking, alcoholism, and drug addiction. It’s also a useful method to consider any bad habit. The model is used by social workers, therapists, and psychologists to analyze their patients’ actions and to explain the change process to them.

The model’s main benefits are that it’s easy to comprehend, has a lot of research behind it, and can be used in a variety of circumstances.

The Stages of Change Model is a well-known psychological model that depicts six stages of personal transformation:

  1. Precontemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Determination
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance
  6. Termination

2. How Are These Stages Relevant to Changing Habits?

To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[4]

Stages of change wheel

Let’s look at the six stages of change, together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

During the preliminary stage of consideration, a person has no intention of making any positive changes in the following six months.

This could be due to denial about their situation, feeling too overburdened to cope with it, or becoming frustrated after numerous failed attempts at change. 

For example, someone may be aware that they need to begin exercising but is unable to do so due to a lack of motivation.

They may recall the last time they attempted (and failed) to exercise on a regular basis. Only when they begin to see the benefits of making a change do they begin to change. 

Stage 2: Contemplation

The individual begins to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of altering during the contemplation stage. They begin to recognize that changing their routines would likely help them, but they spend a lot of time considering the disadvantages of doing so. This stage can extend for several months or perhaps a year.

This is the stage in which you procrastinate. An individual, for example, begins to really explore the benefits of regular exercise but becomes repelled when they contemplate the time and effort required. The person advances to the next level when they begin to put together a solid plan for transformation.

The transition of an abstract notion into a belief (for example, from “Exercise is a good, logical thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it”) is the key to advancing from this stage to the next[5].

Stage 3: Preparation

People at this stage begin to formulate a strategy for departing from the status quo.
This period is only a few weeks long. They may, for example, schedule a personal training session and enroll in a nutrition course. 

Someone who drinks excessively should see a drug and alcohol counselor; someone who tends to overwork should start thinking about how to create a more realistic schedule.

Stage 4: Action

The individual must now put their step-by-step plan into action, according to the Stages of Change Model. This period usually lasts a few months and entails a lot of minor steps. In our scenario, the person would start going to the gym on a daily basis and changing their diet.

Stage 4 is the point at which a person’s desire to change is visible to family and friends. The process of transformation, on the other hand, began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have changed their habits overnight, it’s probably not that overnight!

This post will teach you how to put your goals into action.

Stage 5: Maintenance

After a few months in the action stage, the person will begin to consider how they might maintain their changes over time and make lifestyle changes as needed.

For example, someone who has made it a habit to exercise regularly and eat a healthier diet will be aware of previous triggers (such as consuming junk food during a stressful period at work) and will make a conscious decision to safeguard their new habits.

If someone does not actively engage with Stage 5, their new habits are likely to fall apart. Someone who has maintained their new habits for several months, perhaps a year or more, may reach the ultimate level.

Maintenance can be difficult since it entails developing a new set of behaviors to keep the changes in place. For example, someone who wants to keep up their new gym habit may need to work on improving their budgeting abilities in order to keep their gym membership.

Stage 6: Termination

Only a small percentage of people reach this stage, which is marked by total dedication to the new habit and the assurance that they will never return to their old ways.

Someone may find it difficult to envision giving up their exercise regimen and becoming ill at the prospect of consuming junk food on a regular basis, for example.

However, for the vast majority of people, staying in the maintenance stage indefinitely is normal. This is due to the fact that it takes a long time for a new habit to become so regular and natural that it clings without effort for the rest of one’s life.

To give another example, even a year or more after quitting smoking, an ex-smoker may often struggle to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette. It can take years for them to reach the point where they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

3. How Long Does Each Stage Take?

It’s important to remember that some people can stay in the same stage for months or even years. When making a change, understanding this paradigm will help you be more patient with yourself. You’ll get frustrated if you try to force yourself to move from contemplation to upkeep.

You can, on the other hand, adjust your strategy if you take a moment to examine where you are in the transition process. 

If you need to make changes rapidly and are having trouble progressing to the next level, it’s time to seek professional assistance or adopt a new strategy for habit formation.

4. Limitations of the Stages of Change Model

The model works best when you know exactly what you want to achieve and how you will measure it ahead of time (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or the number of cigarettes smoked per day). The paradigm has limits, despite the fact that it has proven effective for many people.

They require the ability to set a realistic goal.

To begin with, there are no foolproof methods for determining where you are in the process—you must be honest with yourself and rely on your own judgment.

Second, it presupposes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas, in reality, you may need to modify your goals or seek expert assistance.

It doesn’t matter whether you follow the phases if your aim is unrealistic; you won’t get anywhere. You must determine whether your objectives are reasonable. [6]

Difficult to Judge Your Progress

The methodology also presupposes that you can objectively assess your own accomplishments and shortcomings, which isn’t always the case. [7]

As an example, let’s say you’re trying to develop the habit of calculating calories as part of your weight-loss attempts. Even if you think you’re tracking your intake correctly, you could be overestimating or underestimating.

According to research, most people believe they are exercising and eating properly, but they aren’t as healthy as they think. Because the model does not account for this scenario, you may assume you are in the action stage but aren’t seeing results.

If you’re serious about making changes, it’s a good idea to get professional counsel so you can be confident the adjustments you’re making will have a positive impact.


The Stages of Change Model can be a helpful tool for recognizing and understanding change in yourself and others.

While the Stages of Change Model has significant limitations, it can help you picture how you go through changes so you know what to expect when trying to break a habit.


  1. Psych Central: Stages Of Change

2. Simon Kneebone: Tobacco and Mental Illness Project

3. Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)

4. Empowering Change: Stages of Change

5. Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior

6. The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model

7. Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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