Stage 1 - Pre contemplation
This stage is the most difficult one, mostly because in this stage the person doesn't think that they need to change. It's not their problem, it's everyone else's. They might think about the change if they are pushed by other people in their life, but there is no internal motivation.
But don't worry; if you have identified your reason for change - your motivation behind starting this process, the you are most likely already far ahead of this first stage.
Stage 2 - Contemplation
This is the stage when you know that you want to change some habit, but haven’t really made a commitment to it.
You know you should change a habit or a behavior, but the motivation isn't strong. Sometimes you try to make a change, other times you forget about it, and you tell yourself that you don't have time, or it's hard to remember, or you will get started tomorrow - the tomorrow that never comes.
And the real reason behind this struggle in this second stage is that you haven't clear picture of the three things you need to work through this stage: Knowing exactly what behavior or habit is it that you want to change, and knowing what you are going to replace that habit with? And also why? Why should your brain let go of taking care of things automatically and put in all this effort?
But that's exactly why putting words to what you want to change and why is the change so important... what is your motivation behind it?
Stage 3 - Preparation
The third stage of change is preparation. This is a stage that people often skip, which is the reason their change lasts only a short while, but they go back to their old habits.
Once you’re motivated enough to move past the contemplation stage, you likely want to jump right-in. But that's more like taking your SATs or GREs without preparation because you’re so excited and ready to get into your dream school.
Remember - "Success always needs preparation."
And I really hope that by now you have identified and shared what you want to change and why, because guess what.... If you have already done that, then you can get started on this third stage right now, and start getting ready for stages 4 and 5 within the next few days.
So what exactly goes into this stage?
Start by defining your end-goal. Start with the end in mind. Define what you want to change, and how would you know when you’re there? For example, if your goal is to loose weight and get fit this summer - define a concrete goal, such as I plan to loose 5 lbs.
Second, define steps along the way to your goal - have gradations that you can periodically track to make sure that you’re on the right track, and also get some motivation that you’re making process.
Third, and the most important is - decide on a specific start date. It is important to have a specific start date in mind, when you would start working towards the change. And the best window is 5 to 7 days.
Stage 4 - Action
This is stage when you are actively working towards your goals... you are putting in the work, you are actually making the change. A couple of reminders for this stage:
Write down your why, and create a daily checklist somewhere (white board on the fridge, or on your phone):
What behavior or thinking do you want to track
What are you replacing that with? What will you do instead? How do you want to think instead?
This checklist will help you get better and better overtime in recognizing the things that you want to change in that moment, and remembering what you want to replace them with. The longer you stick with the process, better you will get - it's one small step every day.
In addition, it can be helpful to have an accountability person who can periodically check-in with you, to keep you motivated and on the track.
Stage 5 - The Maintenance stage
And finally, you will arrive at the last stage - Maintenance, which is all about maintaining the change that you’ve now achieved.
Forget about the whole 21 days, it take weeks to months for the new habits to really become a second nature - the new automatic road for your brain... where it just becomes effortless. Especially, if your old thinking and behavior has been present for many years.
This stage often involves sticking with your new habits until they become a second nature, just like your initial habits were. Once they are, then you no longer have to think about it or pay attention to it. Your brain will have a new roadmap for all the automatic functioning.