Cycle of Change

Ever wondered why your behaviour plans meet with resistance from students? Understanding the Cycle of Change ensures that  your interventions are correctly focused.

Professionals in the world of Behaviour Change are indebted to Psychologists Prochaska and Di Clemente who, 30 years ago, carried out research into why some people respond to behaviour change programmes and others don’t.   Although their research was carried out in the field of addiction and dependency counselling, the findings are relevant to anyone involved in behaviour change:  dieticians; counsellors; sports coaches; teachers and psychologists.

The Cycle of Change describes the natural progression that we go through when we decide to change in our behaviour.
Five stages of change have been identified and students typically recycle through these stages several times before sustaining  changes to their behaviour that have anything other than a short-term effect.
  • “I haven’t got a problem – it’s everybody else” is the stage called PRECONTEMPLATION. Absolutely no point in setting targets if the pupil is at this stage, they don’t even accept there is a problem, so why would they engage in your plan?
  • “I might have a problem, and one day I might do something about it” is the second stage, CONTEMPLATION. This is probably the stage where a pupil needs most support to move onto the next stage. They have realised/admitted that there is a problem but they are ambivalent about change. They have worked out that there is a cost to all behaviour change and they are not sure that the benefits of making the change are worth the price they will pay for it: loss of status; alienation from peers; time and effort; risk of failure.
  • I need to do something about it , now” is DETERMINATION
  • I am doing something now to change my behaviour” is ACTION
  • I’m struggling to keep this change going” is MAINTENANCE
An important feature of this cycle of change is that there are possibilities for lapse and relapse at any of these stages. Recognising that lapse and relapse are a normal feature of the change cycle can us to keep going when we may be tempted to think that we are “back to square one”. Psychologically, there is a world of difference between the individual who has made a decision to change, taken the first steps and then experienced a relapse, and the person who is still at the early stages of contemplating change. From the outside, it may appear that they look the same, because they don’t appear to be putting effort into changing what they do.
If we remind ourselves about Total Behaviour, these two individuals may be acting in a similar way, but their thinking and feeling and physiology will be quite different. One might be saying “I can’t keep this up” and feeling quite exhausted while the other might be thinking ” Everybody is getting at me” and feelings of anger and resentment may typify this stage.
Although the website is aimed at helping people addicted to gambling, this link to a  Problem gambling webpage gives a good overview of how to plan your support at different stages of the Cycle of Change.
Prochaska, J. O. & DiClemente, C. C. (1982). Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a more integrative model of change. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 20, 161-173 Victoria State Government, Australia. Accessed by GR on 24/4/2012

Image Credit: Badly Drawn Dad

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