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3 Proven Stages to Change Your Habits

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

Two signs - one, pointing left, says "old habits" while the other, pointing right, says "new habits."

Do you struggle with a habit that you would really love to kick? Maybe you can’t seem to start (or commit to) something new and good for your life.

Whether you want to stopsmoking or startmeditating, you might be interested to know there is a formula which can drastically improve your chances of success.


In the groundbreaking book, Changing for Good, A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, three doctors—James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente—offer insights that have the power to both take you where you want to go and to keep you on target along the way.


In the book, the authors outline 5 stages of change which are pretty much shared by every human. These are the fundamentals of change experienced at the level of our biology, which means they appear to be relevant no matter the culture.

The stages of change are:


1 - Pre-contemplation

2 - Contemplation

3 - Preparation

4 - Action

5 - Maintenance 

*6 - Termination / Relapse

A baby blue background with white daisies and their yellow floral discs.


When two or more unrelated approaches lead to the same conclusion, it's called a "consilient finding" and it's a wonderful thing to experience!

As I was reading this book for the first time, I realized that I had already been progressing through some of these stages even though I didn't know about them in any formal sense. That made me feel really good about myself and convinced me about just how hardwired we are to succeed at change when it is done in certain ways. It also gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in the approach these doctors have presented. After all, if these processes are as universal as the docs are suggesting, it only seems reasonable that one might run into them in the course of living one's own life.

On that same note, I also realized that, with a few of my problems I had actually skipped over some of the stages entirely, which explains why I had likely failed in making those particular changes.


In order for everything to work as intended, it is imperative that you understand all of the stages outlined in the book and know how they relate to one another.That being said, I wanted to highlight three of the stages as a way of helping you see just how simple this framework truly is. Please note, while I am only sharing three of the stages here, I have made it a point to keep the appropriate stage number for each because the order matters and I don't want to suggest that the other stages can be skipped or that they are somehow unimportant.

So with no further ado, I present to you the 3 steps, starting with number 2.

A profile view of a man's head, silhouetted, with an overlay image of that same may ascending a flight of stairs over where his brain would be.


Stage number two (as simple as it sounds) is about admitting that you may actually have a problem. In this stage, you begin to allow the possibility of your "problem" to sink in. You pay attention to how that makes you feel. You ask yourself if this is how you wish to be or if change might make your life a little better.

Arriving at this stage is a really big deal. If you get here, it means that your mind is open and you are willing to entertain the idea that you may need to do some work. This doesn't meanthat you must take all the blame for your problem or even agree with exactly what others think your problem may be. You only need to accept that there is something that could be better, that you may have a personal role to play, and that you are willing to own up to that.

A young woman rests in a morning meditation pose at her doorway.


Before an attempt at healing should be made, the science shows that we are better off slowing our roll and taking some time to make preparations. In this stage, it is important to research the problem from as many angles as you can. Find out what others have done to overcome the challenge. Explore the hidden angles and unexpected turns along the way.

Get a feel for the kind of help that may be available once you are underway. Are there support groups? Are there books, podcasts, documentaries, blogs, or other materials that offer insight? Do you know someone who has already succeeded at facing this problem and made a change? Grab a notepad and a pen and start jotting down every little scrap of relevant information that you can find that will guide you.

Long before I had read this book, this was the stage that I skipped. I had finally come to admit that I had a lot of problems and probably needed to get some help, but then made fast work of jumping straight into action. At that time, I couldn’t have known that there was a proven process and that I was skipping a major part of it. Naturally, I failed at those change attempts, but I let out a sigh of relief when I finally understood why; I was not properly prepared to take action (and subsequently failed to change) because I had skipped this stage.

A goldfish bravely jumps upward from a tiny fish bowl and into a larger fish bowl.


Once you have admitted that something could be better and you've taken the time to really try and understand the challenge that you are up against and have a plan for what to expect and what to do, then you are ready to set that plan into motion!

A desert highway stretches beyond as a yellow sign in the foreground reads "Change just ahead."


In my view, this book is nothing short of remarkable. It offers a framework for change that anyone can easily understand, self-implement, and apply. To that end, it has been written specificallyfor people to implement on their own, without the aide of a professional.

Life is hard enough as it is. That's why I highly recommend you buy yourself a copy of this incredibly helpful book and take the time to go through it. Ever since my therapist opened my eyes to these groundbreaking concepts, I have purchased this book as a gift for my friends and family. To order your own copy, click the cover of the book below.

If you purchase the book using the link(s) on this blog, a small portion of your purchase will go to support The Inside Out.

*The sixth stage, 'Termination / Relapse,' is not always listed among the other five because it really isn’t a stage as much as it’s a matter of fact. One either terminates the process by permanently integrating the change into her life or slips back to one of the earlier stages and resumes from there.

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