Many people struggle with habits that are potentially self-destructive including smoking, gambling, and over consuming alcohol. Frustrated at their lack of progress in helping people break free of addiction, researchers uncovered the process necessary to strengthen self-control. Knowing at which "stage of change" a person is illuminates what needs to happen to progress forward.
People in precontemplation underestimate the benefits of changing and overestimate the costs. They typically are not aware that they are making such mistakes. If they are not conscious of making such mistakes, it will be difficult for them to change. Many remain mired in the precontemplation stage for years, doing considerable damage to their bodies, themselves and others.
Contemplation is the stage in which people intend to change in the next 6 months. Although more aware of the pros of changing, they also are acutely aware of the cons. When people begin to contemplate acting seriously, their awareness of the costs of changing can increase. There is no “free change.” The balance between the costs and benefits of changing can provoke profound ambivalence. This ambivalence can reflect a type of love-hate relationship, as with an addictive substance or destructive relationship, and it can keep people immobilized in this stage for long periods. We often characterize this phenomenon as chronic contemplation or behavioral procrastination.
Action is the stage in which people have made specific, overt modifications in their lifestyles within the past 6 months. Because action is observable, behavior change often has been equated with the action stage.
A common reason that people relapse early in action is that they are not well prepared for the prolonged effort needed to progress to maintenance. Many think the worst will be over in a few weeks or a few months. If they ease up on their efforts too early, they are at great risk of relapse.
Overcoming chronic problems, like addictions, is like running a marathon. Only those well prepared can sustain their efforts mile after mile.
The cons of changing must decrease for people to progress from contemplation to action.
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