Stages Of Change Model – Tasks and Obstacles

I was introduced to the following information through an online program I attended during one of my many recovery attempts. It comes from the book Changing For Good, by Prochaska, Norcross, & Diclemente(2006). They outline the tasks and obstacles associated with each of the 5 stages of change. I wrote an earlier post on the stages of change and you might want to read it first if you are unfamiliar with them.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Change

Briefly, they are;

Precontemplation – not ready to change, maybe not aware there is a problem, or are resigned to never changing.

Contemplation – starting to think about change, often wavering back and forth on whether or not you need to change or you really want to change. Need more motivation to change.

Preparation – getting your ducks in a row, gathering support, recognizing and preparing for triggers, setting a date, and making a commitment to change.

Action – changing the behavior, following through on your commitment to change.

Maintenance – continuing the path, continued abstinence and personal growth.

Tasks Of Each Stage

The idea is that there are things to be done in each stage to move successfully forward to the next stage. Too often people make a decision to change and impulsively jump into it without doing the necessary work to stay the path. Take New Year’s resolutions for example, making a decision to change up everything January 1st without taking the time to set yourself up for success is a sure method for failure. I’m not sure of the exact percentage but I suspect that over 90% of people do not stay with there New Year’s resolutions much longer that a couple of weeks into the new year.

Following are the tasks to be completed for each stage.

  • Precontemplation – Becoming aware of consequences. Starting to become conscious, seeing the downside of the current behavior. The main task at this stage is to develop self awareness.
  • Contemplation – Tip the scales towards change, evaluate the pros and cons, identify values and create motivation to change. Recognize and work through resistance.
  • Preparation – Commit to change, set a date, identify support and obstacles, and create a plan for dealing with potential problems.
  • Action – Develop new responses to triggers, create healthier outlets and responses to external stimuli. Limit exposure to risk, create new associations and patterns of behavior.
  • Maintenance – Continue to stay focused and work on relapse prevention. Create healthier relationships with others and with yourself.

Blocks And Obstacles Of Each Stage

If it seems to be difficult moving forward with change, maybe checking in on obstacles and blocks will help you get unstuck.

Following are the blocks to overcome.

  • Precontemplation – Mental and emotional blocks, denial, minimization, rationalization, blaming others, resignation.
  • Contemplation – Procrastination, fear of failure, magical thinking (things will be different this time), waiting for the perfect time.
  • Preparation – Anxiety, procrastination.
  • Action – Not doing the work in the preparation stage, expecting easy change, not prepared for stress and triggers, expecting a magic bullet (quick easy change).
  • Maintenance – Guilt, self blame, overconfidence, not keeping self from risk, social pressure

This is a brief summary of the tasks and obstacles. It is possible to be in different stages with different areas in your life. It is also normal to be impatient and want to just get on with it when you are ready to make a change, and not do the work in preparation. It’s not always a linear path forward, you can slip back to an earlier stage. It is possible to be in action and then move back to contemplation or even precontemplation wondering if it is worth the effort to change. Remember that change takes time and each of the stages is important.

Building Motivation and Staying Focused

Here are a several exercises to help move forward.

The first is a good exercise to look at where you are and what is needed to move you into change or to explore what is happening at the current stage you are in. It can be useful even in maintenance to examine what might be going on and if you need more support or to add to what you are currently doing.

  1. What stage are you in around making the intended change?
  2. If this is not where you want to be, what can you do to move to the next stage?
  3. Are there other things you need to do to support you in making the change that need to be attended to first, like seeing a doctor, getting professional help of some sort, taking a class, etc…?
  4. What will you do to move forward on those changes?
  5. What blocks you from making changes?
  6. What will you do to start to resolve the blocks?

In order to really make a commitment to change and stay with it motivation is the key.

Do the decisional balance exercise, answer the following questions:

  • What is the benefit of quitting?
  • What is the cost of quitting?
  • What is the benefit of continued use?
  • What is the cost of continued use?

If you still aren’t sure if you are ready to change, consider the effects of your behavior or substance in the areas of:

  • Finance
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Relationships with others/self
  • Career/school
  • Leisure and social life
  • Legal repercussions

Mental And Emotional Blocks

Creating action steps and developing new behaviors, at least for me feel like the easy part of change. Dealing with the fear and the emotional aspects of change are more difficult. Using strategies like Emotional Freedom Techniques, developing relaxation techniques, deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, and looking at thinking errors can be help when emotions like fear or guilt are getting in the way of change.

There are a lot of things you can explore on your own. I have a few posts on EFT, thinking errors and mindfulness and will continue to add new items. You tube is a great resource. Udemy is a great resource that offers courses on a myriad of subjects including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, Mindfulness, and Positive Psychology just to name a few.

If it feels overwhelming to do this on your own please get help. Find a therapist or coach, go to a meeting either physically or use one of the online resources. You don’t need to do this alone. It can be a difficult journey and asking for help may be one of the lessons you need to learn.


Doing the work in advance, spending time building motivation and self awareness, gives you a clear understanding of why you want to change. Doing the work of the preparation stage of change and staying diligent and vigilant through the action and maintenance stages of change will help you move forward successfully. If you do slip, just remember that you are human and you have now learned one more thing not to do. It doesn’t mean you have failed, the majority of people working on change in there life, whether it be changing an addictive behavior or starting a weight loss program are not successful the first time. You won’t fail unless you quit.


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