Which Stage Of Change Are You In?

In the substance abuse field, there is something called motivational interviewing. I use it in my work with people having drug or alcohol problems. One of the first questions I ask someone is, “What are you motivated to do?”

I don’t try to persuade you to follow some plan or program. Because you won’t do it. You will only do what you are motivated to do. So, we spend a lot of time talking about that.

A useful tool in this discussion is something called Stages of Change. The idea is to identify which stage you are in and focus on moving to the next one, slowly and with purpose. We talk in great detail about the reality of the problem and how it’s affecting your life.

People are usually ambivalent about change and this is normal. Ambivalence is having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas. You’re not sure what you want to do or if you want to do anything.

1. Precontemplation – “Who me?”
The costs of substance abuse are not yet recognized. You are in denial and not seriously considering changing your behavior. You may have made previous attempts to change, but have since given up.
“Somebody made me come here.”
“I’m doing better than these other people.”

2. Contemplation – “OK…maybe…”
You are uncertain about change. You recognize reasons to change your behavior, but you have apprehensions. The substance abuse continues.
“Maybe I have a problem.”
“I’ll think about it.”

3. Preparation – “I will change.”
You have decided to make a change and you begin to consider what to do. Minor adjustments in behavior may be made during this stage.
“I’m ready this time.”
“I don’t like my life.”

4. Action – “I’m really changing.”
You take action to end the substance abuse. You may be avoiding previous triggers, reaching out for help, or taking other steps to avoid temptation.
“I’m learning new skills.”
“I can feel a difference.”

5. Maintenance – “How much longer?”
The changes you made during the action stage are maintained. You may continue to face challenges maintaining the change.
“This is harder than I thought.”
“What if I can’t keep this up?

6. Relapse – “Oh no I did it again.”
After making changes, you may eventually return to previous substance abuse. It can take several passes through the stages to permanently end a behavior.
“Why can’t I do this?’
“What’s wrong with me?”

Several important points to remember:

I believe relapse is part of the process. There are different viewpoints on this, and mine is that relapse makes you wiser and gets you closer to your goal.

You are the owner of this process and I’m your guide. You determine what you do and when with my constant encouragement and support.

Along the way, your motivation may change as may your goals. And that’s OK. The main things are that you buy into the necessity of change and you decide what change works best for you.

These steps are not linear. They don’t happen sequentially. You will move around among them. Ultimately, the permanent stage is the one you set for yourself. It’s where you believe you belong.

The end of this process occurs when the change you seek has been integrated into your life. That means you don’t have to think about it. It just happens organically and the change is your new normal.

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