The 5 Stages of Behavioural Change.

Humans are creatures of habit and we like to stick to our comfort zones and what we know. BUT when what you know is killing you you’re left with no choice but to accept that you need to adapt in order to survive.

What are the 5 key stages needed for behavioural change? And how can they help you move on?

Recovery from any mental illness often requires complete behavioural change. Our minds become so wired to thinking in a particular way, that we require a detox. Figuratively speaking, of course. From the personal perspective of a restrictive eating disorder, it begins by trying to manage the sufferer’s intake in order to regain physical stability. However, the biggest and most difficult change isn’t the physical weight gain, it’s the emotional and mental trauma that comes along with it.

As I began to work through recovery a number of years ago, I realized that my condition was nothing to do with weight. In fact, it was almost entirely due to what was going on internally. Weight was just an illusion used to cope with chronic stress, low self-esteem, and mental distress.

In order to give myself a fighting chance in recovery, I needed to look at my behaviors and attitudes.

Image from Alexas Fotos.

The 6 Rules of Behavioural Change.

It’s a simple concept but it’s far from easy.

If behavioural change were easy, we’d all be able to do it within the week. Recovery wouldn’t take so much time, money, and effort, and we’d be back to our normal lives without a second thought.

However, the reality is that complete behavioural change takes massive amounts of time, patience, perseverance, and acceptance. Without all of these stepping stones in place, we’d be doomed to fail.

It’s incremental.

In recovery, it’s expected that you’ll take two steps forward and one step back. At least, that’s how it feels. Like anything difficult, but worth doing, recovery is an ongoing process. There are plenty of ups and downs, sometimes one more than the other. That’s exactly why the small changes that you make need to be acknowledged and celebrated! 

You put the washing on? Amazing!

You managed to stick to eating six times today? Well done!” 

It’s going to be slow.

When trying to create change you’re creating new habits and neural pathways in your brain. I like to compare it to painting the Sistine Chapel; It can’t be rushed.

In order to create a habit, you need to repeat them over and over again so that it becomes almost automatic. You also need to learn how to disconnect the old habits in order to make room for the new, shiny and healthy habits you’re working so hard on forming.

Change doesn’t happen without discomfort.

DISCOMFORT + PERSEVERANCE = CHANGE

Change is facilitated by having or developing specific personality traits.

There are 3 ‘C’s and 3’P’s in regard to personality traits that can better initiate change. The good thing about these traits is they can be learned by those who don’t naturally possess them. I am one of these people, and it takes a great deal of effort for me to initiate and overcome the fear of change.

  • Curiosity: The curiosity to engage in and give change a try. Without it you won’t bother moving from your comfort zone.
  • Compassion for the self: You have to be compassionate with yourself to even begin to entertain the idea of change. If you aren’t going to be nice to yourself then why bother with recovery?
  • Caring for the self: Again you need to take care of yourself and your emotional and physical needs in order to engage in and stick to change. 
  • Practice: You need to practice self-care, compassion, and recovery every day in order to make it work. Remember those habits and pathways? The more you do something (practice something) the easier it becomes and the more likely it is to form an automatic response in your brain.
  • Patience: Be patient with yourself. Remember point 3? The change will not and can not happen in a matter of hours. 
  • Persistence: Keep going and keep moving forward.

Put one foot in front of the other.

You’re going to have bad days but those bad days don’t define the rest of your life. Let your past be the sound of your feet on the ground! 


5 Key Steps to Behavioural Change.

In order for change to work, you have to be willing and ready to do so. If you don’t take anything else from this post, remember;

If you are not ready and not committed then it simply won’t work.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the above model. It’s one I’ve used in the past during university, work, and, eventually, my own recovery.

There are 5 main stages of behavioural change. During any of these phases, specifically with recovery from mental illness, relapse is always possible but not desirable.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation.

At this stage, you’re unaware of an issue or in denial that you need help.

Stage 2: Contemplation.

At this point, you’re aware of the problem and you’re thinking about taking steps to recovery. You may actively be seeking support at this point or you might not know where to turn in order to get the ball rolling.

At this point in the game, stagnation is possible in that you have vague plans to recover but nothing is set in stone. You’ll just float in no man’s land for a while until you decide to either bite the bullet and enter treatment or remain the same.

Stage 3: Preparation.

You’re planning to change and you’ve set yourself goals in order to help you do that. I advise you to make your goals public in order to rally up the troops for support, or even just to hold yourself publicly liable.

Stage 4: Action.

Now you’re putting your goals to work. You may already be lucky enough to be engaging with therapy or services of some kind.

Be aware that there will be setbacks and small relapses are always ever-present. Don’t be disheartened. I’ve been there, I’m still there some days and you will be too. We aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to struggle to stay at stage 4. Be kind, patient, and keep pushing ahead through it all.

Stage 5: Maintenance.

In regards to Anorexia Nervosa, the maintenance phase comes after weight restoration and emotional healing. You need to ensure that you continue to practice good habits, eat well, be kind to yourself, remain confident, and don’t look back.

As humans, we often look into the past. We regret we contemplate, we mourn and we reminisce about the past. Unlike Lot’s Wife, looking back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll turn into a pillar of salt (that is you will not fall into bad habits just by simply thinking about it).

You don’t have to pretend that it never happened because chances are that this experience has shaped you into the person you are and will be. Instead, use the experience as a lesson and not as a romantic notion that you keep locked away in a box ready to come out whenever times are tough. I did and look where it got me.


“What stage of behavioural change am I in?”

You can switch from one stage to another in a matter of seconds so it isn’t as straightforward as getting into a lane and sticking to it. Even if you are in the middle of therapy it doesn’t mean you’re 100% committed all the time and ready for action.

Recovery of any kind is like an internal war being waged inside your own mind every day. There are conflicting emotions and thoughts that’ll cause a lot of confusion and frustration, and nothing about it is simple. It’s not meant to be so don’t be disheartened if you don’t know where you are in recovery.

That’s okay.

Above all else; Be kind to yourself and have patience.

101 comments

  1. Change doesn’t happen without discomfort! So true! IT is about taking it one day at a time and trying to enjoy the process with our eyes on the end goal!

  2. Great post on human behavior. I love changes. I love to be challenged. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I completely agree with your philosophy about change only happening if you are willing to make it happen. It really is all about the mindset.

  4. I feel it’s all in our mind. Once you decide to do something you work for it and you can do it. Wonderful read.

  5. Oh wow, what an awesome read! I love your statement, “You don’t have to pretend that it never happened because chances are that this experience has shaped you into the person you are and will be.” This is really helpful. Thanks for sharing this! ~ Ola @ WanderWithOla

  6. This was really informative and something I’m interested in learning more about.

  7. Slowly but surely you can make changes, even big scary ones like moving to a new job! Wishing you all the best and thank you for reading πŸ™‚

  8. It’s hard to come to terms with. I hate discomfort at the moment but I’m trying my hardest to push through it.

    Thank you so much for stopping in. x

  9. Interesting. It takes someone truly in tune with themselves to notice such changes – like myself!

  10. I do agree that we have to experience some discomfort. That way we will want to make changes.

  11. I need a huge change right now, as I’m truly dissatisfied with my work. I know how hard it is to make the first step, as it always brings some discomfort. Hope your tips will help me to make some change in my life! πŸ™‚

  12. I need to change my lazy behaviors and start going to the gym more, so this is really hitting home. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  13. I’ll keep these in mind. There are some behaviors I am wanting to change. (Like picking my nails.)

  14. Perseverance is in everything we do, and especially in anything we try to change in our lives. Very interesting post, when you see all the steps put together it almost seems like we can do it.

  15. Change is never easy, but it’s worth it in the end! And you’re right, we need to celebrate the little things that we’ve accomplished.

  16. Changing a habit or behaviour is a very challenging task to so many people. Your post makes this possible through practical ways shared. Thanks.

  17. The stages of change is so interesting. I used to teach behavioral stages of change to clients that were struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. It looks easy on paper, but it’s such a battle to make those changes and be aware of the changes in each step. Lots and lots of hard work.

  18. I understand the house restoration comparison so well lol! Even now, a year and a half later, Ryan and I are still finding things that need to be done in the house (and there are many!).

  19. I think some people don’t understand what being “weight restored” actually means, and I genuinely hope that was the case with this lassie on instagram and it wasn’t someone intending to trigger.

    When you are properly fixing something, it takes time. I’m thinking in parallels to house restoration when you think that you’re nearly there but then discover dry rot, or wasp nests in the attic, and there’s more work to do in order to get a truly stable and fixed house, rather than something that just had pretty new wallpaper hiding the structural issues underneath.

    I’m glad that you stood up to the tag. Power to you Nyx xxx

  20. This reminds me that I came across a post yesterday on the #weightrestored Instagram, a # I didn’t even know existed but popped up and I was curious. There was a before and after picture of a woman who was NOT obese. She was about an average UK size 14 and the second picture was her ‘weight restored pic’ but included a photo of her looking ‘thinner and prettier’ at a roughly a UK size 8. That’s not weight restored – that’s weight loss and shouldn’t have been in that category. Plus she looked fine beforehand – actually she was prettier. I say this because I didn’t write a lovely congrats below, I commented on how this shouldn’t be in this tag because this is for people recovering from an eating disorder. I got some shit for it but I didn’t want this to trigger anyone else. I could have left it, I could have left a nice commented to be your nice, friendly Instagram users, but instead, I changed my behaviour and actually stood up to it.

    I love that Many and I were able to help you along in your own recovery. By meeting you and getting involved with this wonderful, supportive community I’ve been able to get through some the worst points in my disorder. It’s not fixed, not by any stretch, but it’s a positive change in behavior that I need.

  21. There are so many little sound bites in this post that ring so true for me – weight being an illusion to cope with stress (big tick in that box for me – it’s always when I’m feeling stressed and out of control of my life that I start to relapse to try and feel in control); and that looking back doesn’t mean that you’re going back – I’m finding this more and more with diet culture and the anger I’m starting to feel – like at the ads for fasting apps and timers. I can look back at how I’ve done it before and go no that’s not right, that’s not healthy, I don’t want this for other people.

    I know that I’m starting to piss some people off because they want me to congratulate them for weight loss and I’ll congratulate them on health behaviours and be concerned if they might be walking on the edge of unhealthy.

    I’m forever going to be grateful to you for sparking my curiosity on changing and reintroducing foods that I had removed that were sensory safe but not safe within my disordered thinking framework around food. I was thinking about it over the weekend and there was a perfect combination earlier this year when I found your blog, and also there was Mandy (in Costa) who kept encouraging me to try some of the cakes without being forceful when I said no…and the two of you were both encouraging and promoting curiosity which prompted the want to change and be more relaxed in what I could eat and only have the sensory restrictions. <3

  22. I like the DISCOMFORT + AWARENESS = CHANGE part. It’s true that some kind of change if needed when you are uncomfortable, but being aware enough of the discomfort is KEY. Good points here!

  23. Discomfort . . . that is something that is very hard for people to like; it wants to shove you back into what you know. That is where you have to forge ahead and keep going and find what is waiting for you when you reach awareness; change!

  24. Wow, there’s so much helpful information in here. I love the point about change being incremental and not happening all at once. And I also totally resonate with your point about switching lanes because things change, so do we, and it’s not always possible to keep going in the same direction. Brilliant post, thank you so much for writing and sharing X Lisa

  25. Thanks for listing out the stages so clearly. I like the way you emphasize patience. Change is truly difficult, so it’s helpful to prepare for the stages beforehand.

  26. Thank you very much for stopping in and reading Spence! Always a pleasure to hear your feedback :). I used Canva for the seed/soil image! Honestly, the things I’ve been able to do with a free image library has been amazing! I wouldn’t be able to create any good pins or images with out it!

  27. Nice post! Really enjoyed reading it. The cycle of change- always good to have that prices humanised. I really liked the important 3P’s and 3C’s. I particularly loved your 6 keys- felt like they really conveyed the challenges that each of us very human humans can face, excellent!
    Btw- how did you create your hand-soil-seedling image, very snazzy!
    All the best,
    Spence ????

  28. Ohhh wauw this is an amazing blogpost and I think its so good that you bring up this subject. Change isn’t something you do overnight, but it can also be quite frustrating when you work hard and don’t see the change instantly. I think you are doing an incredible job and keep up the good work!

    So brave of you to share!

    xoxo Annaleid

    http://www.actuallyanna.com

  29. I’ve learned something very similar to this when someone I know went into rehab! Thanks for sharing! ☺️

  30. I love your articles… they offer so much great information. Right now I’m a bit stressed. A lot has happened and major changes have occured. I need to stop and take baby steps to correction my attitude. Thank you.

  31. Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it informative. I hope it helps you in the future should you ever need it πŸ˜€

  32. Sometimes getting out of our comfort zones is the best thing. I’m constantly trying to break through mine and as difficult as it is, I know it’s necessary so I’m inspired to push on. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading πŸ™‚

  33. Good post. You’re definitely right that by making changes and putting things into practice, there are changes that happen in the brain. But change is definitely a process and it takes time and patience. I struggle with this in terms of my anxiety. It’s easy to sort of stick to my “old ways”, but I need to get out of my comfort zone and start thinking differently about it.

  34. I absolutely love this piece. It’s so complete, informative and important. Your 6 rules on behavioral change is just spot on.

    I find myself stuck in the contemplation stage all the time when I’m thinking of working out some negative thought pattern. I’ve pinned this and hopefully, referring back to this post every now and then would remind me about what I need to work on.

    Thank you for the great post!

  35. This is great that in our Wellness Group today we just started talking about the precontemplation five steps. Very wonderful blog thank you

  36. Thank you so much for reading! Good luck with your course this semester – it sounds so interesting and I have to admit I would love to learn more!

  37. It’s crazy that I came across this- I’m taking a course this semester at university called ‘Abnormal Psychology’ .. that name alone is very subjective. However, we talk about mental illnesses and disorders in general as well as the different paths people take to “change”.
    Very informative read!

    Jo |

  38. This was truly an insightful and informative article. And the tips shared are helpful too❀️

  39. Great post! It certainly isn’t going to be a quick fix and it’s far from easy, but all the hardwork and dedication are worth it if you just stick with it!

  40. Yes, when getting ready to make changes in your life you have to be compassionate towards yourself. There are many many things that are going to go right, but there will be things that set you back and you have to be prepared to handle those setbacks with grace. Understanding that change is an ongoing process and that the cycle in the behavioral change will ebb and flow, is important to keep in mind as you get going.

  41. Great post as usual! Important information and advice in this post that can help many people. Thanks!

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