Making Changes That Stick

There are always changes that we can implement which will help us improve the quality of our lives. Whether we want to give up smoking, eat healthier foods, or start a new career, changing how we currently operate is always involved.

Changing our habits (especially bad ones) can be very challenging. However, when we understand how change occurs and the components of successful change, we can increase the changes of us making changes that stick.

The Six Stages of Change

  1. Precontemplation: In this first stage, people don’t even consider changing or that change is possible during this stage. Other people in the person’s life may identify a problem or problems but if told that a problem exists, the person will deny it, be resistant to the idea of change or demonstrate change only as long as there is pressure to change but then returned to their old behaviour pattern.

  2. Contemplation The person is aware that a problem exists but is ambivalent about what part they want to change. The person uses lots of “yes, but…” answers. The person struggles with the positive aspect of their current attitudes and behaviours. The rewards for change are often distant and/or scary. The person may “teeter” back and forth between wanting to change and not. This may go on for some time. 

  3. Determination: In this stage, the person is now at the point where they make the decision that they want to change, though they may not know how to go about it. The person is open to feedback and information about the problem.

  4. Action: The person is now doing something to change their behaviour, experience, or environment. They are ready for treatment and open to trying out new skills. 

  5. Maintenance: The person works to prevent a return to old patterns of behaviour. The challenge is to maintain their gains to prevent a lapse (complacency) from becoming a relapse. For example, you may decide to take a different route to work to avoid the visual triggers along your usual route.

  6. Relapse: This occurs when the maintenance phase has not been successful or maintained. This does not mean that change is impossible but rather identifies the need to begin again.

Keys to Successful Change

  1. Defining the Big Picture Goal

People who change for good have one thing in common; they have a well formed outcome/goal. The goal must be a positive outcome that is more important or greater than the problem behaviour itself. For example, having the well formed outcome (or bigger picture goal) of being present for your family and friends is more likely to result in more sustainable abstinence than the immediate goal of stopping drinking.

Unpacking the benefits associated with your goal
The more you become familiar with the benefits associated with your big picture goal, the more inclined you are to gravitate away from the problem behaviour. For example, if your goal is to be present for your family, then other benefits may include being able to attend milestone celebrations and provide support to someone in your family who is sick. To help you get to that place, you should continue to think about all of great outcomes that will occur as you work toward actualizing your goal.

Avoid building a negative attitude
Having a negative attitude toward the problem behaviour causes internal conflict and this can detract from your ability to manifest change. If you are thinking about a change you want to make, stop thinking about what you don’t want to do. (For example, if you are trying to quit smoking, do not fixate on the fact that you cannot smoke or not smoking.) Instead, think about what you do want (your big picture goal), all of the great things that you will gain (benefits associated with your goal mentioned above), and give attention to the behaviours that you do want.

Expect that this path isn’t completely linear
A natural part of change is moving forward and backward between the changes of change. If you feel like you cannot make the change stick, know that you can do it and remind yourself that you are working toward the goal. Taking two steps forward and one step back is completely natural. Do not get discouraged

Using Self-Examination to Affect Change
Choose something that you have been thinking about changing, should change, perhaps want to or need to change, but have not changed as yet. In other words, think of a change in which you are ambivalent (see contemplation stage above). We all have them.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to change?
  • Why would you want to make this change?
  • How might you go about it in order to succeed?
  • What are the three best reasons for you to do it?
  • How important is it for you to make these changes, and Why?
  • So, what do you think you’ll do?

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.