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5 Stages of Change: Each Stage & What to Expect

By June 8, 2021July 13th, 2021Recovery

The 5 Stages of Change to Get Through

Change can be defined in many ways. For some, change means a transition from one state to another and for others, it might mean an alteration of something so that it becomes what it was not before. No matter how you define the word “change,” there are five stages that people go through when they make changes in their life.


These five stages are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. And I am sure you have noticed the worry stage. We can’t forget the anxiety stage of it all! That wouldn’t be very anxious of us, would it? In this blog post, I will discuss each stage of change including the benefits of moving through each stage and what to expect at each stage.

Pre-Contemplation Stage

When someone is in this stage, they are not ready to make any changes. They usually do not recognize that there might be a problem and don’t want anyone else to point it out either. Those who find themselves in the pre-contemplation stage often feel angry, frustrated, or even hopeless about their current situation but won’t take action because there may be too many negative consequences for doing so (i.e., financial, etc). The benefits of moving through the pre-contemplation phase include gaining motivation towards making change; recognizing what needs changing as well as why it needs to change; realizing new skills necessary to move forward with change and being able to develop a plan on how to best deal with those things. Building readiness & engagement usually happens in the pre-contemplation to contemplation stage.

What to Expect:

  • Denial- You may find yourself in denial of the problem and become increasingly frustrated with those who point it out. You will start to feel hopeful about making changes but don’t want anyone else to know you’re struggling.
  • Rationalization- You may come up with reasons why you do not need to make a change, which can be addressed in the contemplation stage when more awareness is given towards taking action on the problem or issue at hand.
  • Minimization- You may start believing that your situation doesn’t warrant any action or it is not that bad. The comparison of yourself toward another person’s struggle can play a key role in minimization.

These are just a few cognitive distortions that may begin to show up when moving through the pre-contemplation to contemplation stage. The longer you stay in this phase, the more difficult it makes it to make a leap to change.

Contemplation Stage  

This stage is about acceptance of the need for change. We’ve come to terms with your situation and can see it as a problem that needs action in order to be resolved or improved upon. This is where we ask, “Why am I doing this to myself?” We’re looking for the possible benefits of change. With an increase in your commitment and motivation, it’s important to get ready to take some action. This is the stage where using motivational interviewing as a technique to begin building stamina for taking action.

What to Expect:

In this stage, we start to be more aware of the addiction and its possible effects on the outcome and quality of our life. You may experience fear or feeling that the change will be too difficult but these feelings pass as soon as you take the opposite action.

Preparation Stage

The preparation stage is about acquiring the resources and knowledge needed to start change. We gather the tools, techniques, and strategies used to implement this change. This includes reading books or articles on self-help topics, self-help groups such as AA 12-step and SMART recovery. Weekly meetings with a counselor or therapist for guidance and check-ins can be very beneficial. It is important to have a clear plan for goals or overcoming obstacles that may arise during your journey of change.

Journaling gratitude and your thoughts while evaluating how they affect your current state of mind (i.e., am I feeling good? Am I looking forward to my future?), practicing new behaviors as if it were already reality so when this time comes, the brain is autonomous on knowing what needs to be done next because you are continuous in practicing these actions beforehand.

What to Expect:

You should expect periods of relapse where old habits resurface; these are normal and should not be seen as setbacks.


Changing your behavior will provide you with increased energy levels, better relationships with people in your life, improved productivity at work or school, reduced stress levels that may result from addiction or other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Action stage

This is where you finally take action on your decision to make a positive change and commit yourself 100%. You’re taking steps toward being healthier or fixing an issue in your life. These are all things that should be celebrated because they require bravery! In this stage, you’ll identify the behaviors and patterns that led to your decision for change. You’ll also recognize when these old behaviors or habits show up in your life again because they’re going to happen. Instead of falling back into those same traps over and over, you can take a step back with cognitive awareness before making any major decisions.

What to expect:

Anything we stumble on is never something that should not be looked at as defeat but an opportunity. To stumble means to ‘find upon’. What did you find upon this time of a mishap? There is always something to come out of a situation and it will depend on how you perceive that information and what you decide to do with it that matters.


This will give yourself enough space between what happened – which was never good anyway – so you can make better choices moving forward such as asking for help from people who are close friends or family members instead of turning to substances again.

Maintenance Stage

After experiencing significant changes, it’s normal to go through periods where old habits may come back into play. It makes sense why maintaining healthy behaviors would feel like going against what feels natural at times but these moments will also help strengthen them even more with time spent practicing them again. Change involves working hard. Difficult change requires a person to have grit. The hard work and grit are what make it worth it as you achieve success day after day. These qualities are what make you YOU in this lifetime. Stabilizing the changes made means that your lifestyle is improving and the hard work is paying off.

The key to maintain these changes is recognizing that the occasional slip-up will happen. It’s important not to let it become a habit again or drag you back down.  Instead of holding shame and beating yourself up about it, move on from what happened with an understanding that you are only human. You are doing your best. Focus on your strengths and be proud of all the positive steps forward in your life so far.

The Bonus Inevitable Worry Stage

If you’re worried about failing, succeeding, self-sabotage, judgment, or any other normal human emotion. What other people make of your decision for change or the feeling that you may not be able to do it… this is a stage to remember. We all worry about something. Forgive yourself for anything in the past so you can move forward with the new change. Not repeating an old healthy pattern. Whether it’s our own criticism or other’s criticism, we want to make our family proud and do right by the ones we love. We want to be proud of ourselves.

It becomes hard to make any decisions because everything feels like a risk. In order to move on, let go of those fears! It’s not worth feeling stuck in fear every day just so someone else can feel better. Realize that the only person who really knows how much work has gone into making these changes is YOU – no one else will ever know as well as yourself! Keep fighting through this phase with some self-love and compassion; remind yourself why you want to be healthier/happier and all the progress that’s been made toward achieving it. You deserve that for yourself!




The five stages that people go through when they make changes in their life are the ones throughout this blog, and each stage includes a list of benefits you may experience if you move from one stage to the next.  Are there any areas in your life where it feels like change is not happening?

Here are some questions for introspection that might help point out where to guide your attention:

  • What does the future look like if you don’t take action now?
  • How do my emotions stack up against my thoughts about taking action at this point?
  • Who can you talk to about this change and who is going to hold you accountable for it?
  • Which of these stages are you at in your life currently?
  • Have you applied any positive changes to your routine lately to increase your joy?

Ensure you have the right tools and spiritual approach for retraining your brain. You have the power to transform your life and habits significantly. Satori is here to set the stage with what is right for you. Join us for our free 5-day course here!