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'A guide to the six steps of change'

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Navigate your way through six stages to achieve your goals, says Anne Marshall.

If you are thinking about making a change in your personal or professional life, then, according to Prochaska et al (2006), you will have to undergo six steps and know how to tackle them.

Stage one is pre-contemplation - it’s when you realise that you need to make changes.

In this stage, your level of discomfort has not quite reached the stage that it’s worth making the effort to change. It’s a phase characterised by you saying “I can’t” or “I won’t” until the day comes when you realise things won’t get better unless you make them better, and make the much-needed change.

This is the step that reflects your inner acknow-ledgement that things need to change, even though your conscious mind may be resisting the process.

This stage can make you feel daunted as you consider what needs to be done. It is entirely normal to feel reluctant, but try to overcome this by thinking what could happen if you leave things as they are.

Stage two is contemplation. This is when you recognise that change must happen, and you are gathering information to make sure it does.

Stage three is preparation. You’ve made the commitment, but have to do some work before you can carry it out. It’s followed by stage four, the action stage. Armed with your information and learning, your level of discomfort starts to recede and you see success in sight.

Stage five is about maintenance, and keeping yourself on track. You must be persistent, making sure your old habits do not override your new ones.

Stage 6 is recycling or relapse. At this point in the cycle, your new choices should be such an ingrained part of your life that they become automatic and go unnoticed.

Moving yourself through the steps

● Stage one is acknowledging things need to change but your mind resists

● Once you have recognised change must happen, you’ll gather plans and resources to implement it in stage two

● Stage three is preparing to carry out the change

● Stage four is action

● Stage five is maintaining what changes you have made

● Stage six is when you may relapse - celebrate and raise the bar on your achievements so far

It’s a time of celebration and perhaps to raise the bar on your best achievements so far. It is also the time to consider what new goals you may have for yourself now.

Occasionally, this point in the cycle can be marked by relapse, in which case you will find yourself back at the start of the change spiral again, contemplating and preparing for renewed effort.

Change can be difficult at times, and often you may need to take two steps backward to take one step forward. But keep going.

This is an excerpt from The Health Factor: Coach Yourself to Better Health by Anne Marshall available from


Prochaska J et al (2006) Changing for Good. A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. London: Harper Collins.

Anne Marshall has been a nurse and midwife for more than 20 years. She runs a clinical hypnosis practice in Dorset and offers wellness coaching seminars throughout the UK. She is author of The Health Factor, and a range of self-help audiobooks.

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