Changing Bad Habits: Helpful Resources

bad habitsIf you talk to anyone who has worked to help people with serious bad habits (smoking, sex addiction, gambling, drug use) they will probably end up mentioning the “Stages of Change” model of Prochaska. The notion that people don’t just “flip a switch” and change was pretty revolutionary at the time, and the useful notion of stages of change: from toying with the notion of changing, all the way to actively doing the work, also helped many of us be more effective in supporting change.

We often recommend to families and loved ones that they buy a copy of one of the books on the subject.

But we recently discovered that there is also a “self help” version that people can use to make real and long lasting changes in their lives.

As the cover says, “To uncover the secret to successful personal change, three acclaimed psychologists studied more than 1,000 people who were able to positively and permanently alter their lives without psychotherapy. They discovered that change does not depend on luck or willpower. It is a process that can be successfully managed by anyone who understands how it works.”

1. Precontemplation – no thought of changing, now or later. Others who care about us may repeatedly urge us to take action on our problem but at this stage, we are deaf to their pleas.

2. Contemplation – During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing. Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years. In fact, many people never make it past the contemplation phase. During this stage, you may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits.

3. Preparation – remove temptations, plan how action will be taken, arrange support and understanding from family, friends, perhaps a support group. Arrange substitutes for the missed habit or activity or substance. Beware of substituting a new problem (over-eating, over-spending) for the old.

4. Action – the stage most of us picture, actual practice of the new way of being.

5. Maintenance – Prochaska shows that many people benefit from learning the difference between a lapse and a total relapse, (a complete collapse back into the old way). Being prepared to recognize a lapse and take immediate action can save the effort.