A landmark research study identifies distinct stages in the process of changing one’s life. Here they are, with a bit of explanation from a Seattle expert.

Share story

Before making big changes, it’s good to understand that there are five stages involved in preparing for permanent change, according to Seattle psychologist Nancy Goldov, who references a landmark study of what’s called The Transtheoretical Model of Change.

Stage One, the study indicates, is the “Precontemplation Stage.”

“In this stage, we don’t quite know what the problem is that needs our attention,” said Goldov, who also serves as public-education coordinator for the Washington State Psychological Association. “Is it that we need to lose weight or need to select more comfortable clothes, or is it a problem having to do with our harshness toward ourselves and how to find ways to be kinder?”

In Stage Two, the “Contemplation Stage,” we acknowledge there is a problem and begin to think about possible solutions.

As we proceed through this stage, we begin to think about the future and start to get excited about the possibility of change.

Stage Three is the “Preparation Stage” and this is a good place to be at the beginning of the new year.

(If you’re not quite there yet, don’t worry. Astrologers say Jan. 9 is actually a better time for new undertakings because Mercury is retrograde through the eighth.)

In the preparation stage, we begin to plan action, but we still feel ambivalence and need encouragement, Goldov said.

Stage Four is the “Action Phase.”

“This is when we overtly modify our behavior and surroundings. At this stage, if we are on a diet, we don’t have cookies in the cookie jar. This stage takes the greatest commitment of time and energy, but the change is more visible to ourselves and others, which is very rewarding,” Goldov said.

Stage Five is the “Maintenance Stage,” where we are in the middle of a strong commitment to maintaining change. New routines have been formed, though we sometimes feel “nostalgia for our less-desirable habits,” she said.

Goldov said she encourages adoption of the 80/20 rule for maintaining resolutions, which means to accept “that I will be able to maintain my resolutions about 80 percent of the time, and so I am not disappointed when I am living in the 20 percent zone and I accept the fact that I am human and not perfect.”

For more tips from psychologists on how to keep resolutions, see this advice from the American Psychological Association.