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The Secret Ingredient for Successful Personal Change

Why do we dig in, persevere, or give up?

If you are considering a positive personal change, how ready are you to take the actions needed to move forward?

Do you want to (fill in the blank):

  • Declutter your home or office
  • Lose a few pounds
  • Share more time with family or friends
  • Exercise more regularly
  • Start a new sport, hobby, or practice
  • Manage time more effectively
  • Begin to journal or write a book
  • Meditate daily
  • Or something else?

Understand the Change Process

Do you dig in, persevere, or give up? Decades of research show that readiness for change is a key ingredient for success. Behavior change typically progresses gradually as we move from little or no awareness/interest, toward considering the change, to planning and taking specific actions (Zimmerman et al, 2000). Understanding this process, we can proceed more effectively and with less discomfort.

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Researchers Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente (1995) outline a cycle of six stages that has revolutionized our understanding of the factors for successful personal change. Enlisting these steps can help us figure out how ready we are, more adaptively navigate our goals, and increase our possibilities for success.

1 - Not yet thinking about it (pre-contemplation). We have little or no awareness that the behavior is a concern or causes negative consequences. We may have no intention to change or feel unable to change.

2 - Beginning to think about it (contemplation). We see positives about making the change. We begin to think about moving in that direction but have no true intention to take action.

3 - Planning, setting goals, and beginning small steps (preparation). We are developing specific plans to create action within the next month and may already be moving toward the change.

4 - Taking steps to make it happen (action). We are actively changing behaviors and making choices to move forward. Coping with challenges, we are building momentum toward the chosen personal change.

5 - Keeping it upcontinuing to sustain the change (maintenance). We have made the changes and achieved the goal for a significant period of time; we actively intend to keep it up going forward.

6 - It’s a well-practiced, long-standing habit (termination). The new behavior is automatic and it’s no longer a temptation to return to the old behavior.

How ready are you? Here are a few questions to help you pinpoint your stage of readiness:

  • What are your concerns about this behavior change?
  • What are the benefits of changing this behavior? How will your life be different?
  • What are the negative consequences of this behavior (or not doing it, if it’s a behavior you want to start, such as taking up a new hobby)?
  • How does this behavior, or lack of it, get in the way of your ability to achieve your personal or professional goals?
  • How important is making this change?
  • How ready are you to commit to what it takes to change?

Where do you see yourself within the stages of change? If you feel ready to begin preparation or action, here are some self-inquires:

  • Are your goals and plans realistic?
  • What support can you call on for encouragement or to help you hold yourself accountable?
  • What obstacles might get in the way and how can you deal with them?
  • How will you celebrate successful milestones?

How’s Your Self-Efficacy?

Self-efficacy is believing we have the capacity to do what we say we will do–feeling able to make the change. Based on the ground-breaking research of Albert Bandura (1997), when we believe we are capable of succeeding—beginning and maintaining a behavior—we’re more likely to work toward and achieve our goals. According to Bandura, when our sense of personal efficacy is higher, we may be more firmly committed to achieving the challenges and goals we set. Strategies such as observing others as role models, visualizing ourselves taking action and achieving success, and talking about our wins can promote momentum toward mastery.

Get motivated and stay motivated to win.

Consider partnering with a colleague or professional coach to assist you in staying on your path toward our goals. The partnership can encourage you to (Moore, Jackson, Tschannen-Moran, 2016):

  • Assess your readiness for change.
  • Build your self-efficacy.
  • Choose and implement goals, strategies and accountabilities to help you do what you say you will do.
  • Define your path. Set clear, measurable steps to create action and assess your progress.
  • Develop contingency plans outlining what you plan to do when things don’t go as planned.
  • Get motivated and maintain your momentum.
  • Rebound more quickly from setbacks.
  • Improve your chances to create the successful and long-lasting changes you choose to work toward.

If you are contemplating a personal change, how ready are you? What are your next steps?

** This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Co.

Moore, M., Jackson, E., Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching psychology manual, (2nd ed.). Philadephia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.

Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C., Diclemente, C.O. (1994). Changing for good: A revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Zimmerman, G.L., Olsen, C.G., Bosworth, M.F. (2000). A ‘states of change’ approach to helping patients change behavior. American Family Physician, 6(5), 1409-1416.

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