Why the stages of change matter

As an licensed counselor the stages of change is something I have used in counseling with clients for a long time. But I have most recently found it to be applicable in almost every area of life, including in my work as a consultant. In a nut shell these are the stages of change:

  1. Precontemplation (Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed)
  2. Contemplation  (Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of  wanting to make a change)
  3. Preparation/Determination (Getting ready to change)
  4. Action/Willpower (Changing behavior)
  5. Maintenance (Maintaining the behavior change) and
  6. Relapse (Returning to older behaviors and abandoning the new changes)

Most of us stay in the first 3 stages of change in most areas of our lives for a good majority of our lives. Think about weight loss….how often do we talk about the need to lose weight or get more fit and yet how often do we end up committed to a consistent gym schedule and eating regiment? Change is hard. Weight loss is external change. How much more difficult is internal change?

When I consult with organizations I often say, “I don’t actually have a magic wand”. It is said in jest but in all seriousness, I mean it. All I can do as a consultant is give you tools. The implementation of the tools is your job. Internal change within an organization is just as difficult as internal change within yourself. It requires a having gone through the first 3 stages of change and to be good and ready to enter into stages 4 and 5.

Of course let’s not forget stage 6: Relapse. It is inevitable for most of us in most areas of our lives most of the time. So allow it within an organizational setting as well, but be quick to jump back into stage 3 and move to stage 4 quickly so that ongoing maintenance can begin again.