We have all had the desire, one day, to change one of our habits or a behavior (stop smoking, get up earlier in the morning…). But change can be frightening, especially because it implies novelty on the one hand, and because we often think that we will not be able to change our habits on the other hand. To maintain a change, a new life habit on the long term, the key is to stay motivated! So we will see together the steps to go towards change, and how to foster a motivation to change our habits.

I. What is motivation ?

Motivation is a psychological process at the origin of the initiation of an action (getting up earlier in the morning), the maintenance of this action over time, and the cessation of an action (stopping smoking). It is therefore the origin of a change, whatever it may be. In order to acquire the motivation necessary for a change and to remain motivated over the long term, it is important to understand its mechanisms.

II. Stages of Change

           In the 1990s, Prochaska, DiClemente, and Norcross identified 5 stages in the mechanism of change, whatever it may be. I’m going to explain them to you one by one so you can see what stage you’re in if you’re in the goal of change.

  1. The  pre-contemplation stage 

This is the stage where you don’t feel like change, because you don’t yet realize that change is necessary or could be beneficial. Often, it is those around you who can alert you to an issue that requires change. To use the example of quitting smoking, this is the time when those around you might say things like ” you smoke a lot, you should cut down/stop “, ” you’re coughing quite a bit right now, you should quit smoking “, ” you know that smoking is dangerous to your health, you should quit ” etc. And this is also the time when you could reply to those around you ” but no it’s okay, don’t worry “, ” I don’t have a cough from smoking ” etc.

  1. The Contemplation Stage

This is the point where you start to become aware of your issue and start asking yourself questions. You ask yourself what the pros and cons of your problem are, and the pros and cons of a change. So you are aware of your problem but you haven’t yet developed an action plan for change. You don’t have a plan yet because despite the questions you ask yourself, you feel that change is too difficult to achieve and is unattainable. In other words, this is the time when you might say to yourself, ” I know I smoke too much, but I also know I won’t be able to quit, I’ll try someday but not now “.

  1. The stage of preparation

It’s at this stage where you feel ready to start a concrete change, you’ve set up a plan of action to achieve a specific goal. Sometimes you can start trying to implement strategies, to do like ” tests ” to see if it works. So this is also the time when you might experience your first confrontations with the failure of your attempts to change. More concretely, this is the time when you might say to yourself ” I would only smoke 7 cigarettes a day max this week, the next week I would only smoke 6 a day etc. and I would do that until I get to X cigarettes a day/quit smoking “

  1. The action stage

This is the time when you implement your action plan and the strategies you thought about in the preparation stage. This is the stage of the first concrete actions toward change. It’s also the most difficult time, because it involves setting up new habits that are not yet automatic. The difficulty is to stay motivated. Change here requires a great deal of effort, which is why you need to keep your goal in mind and remember why you decided to implement a change. It is during this stage that you are most likely to encounter failure, to relapse.

  1. The holding stage

This stage is the ” ultimate ” stage, in the sense that it’s the stage that opens the door for you to change permanently. This is the point where your new habits become more and more automatic, and you see the benefits to change in a concrete way. It’s important to maintain the behaviors that got you to this point. It is also important to “prevent relapse”, that is to say to understand the thoughts, behaviors and/or emotions that are counterproductive and that do not help you to maintain the change. Because yes, relapse can also happen during this stage. In other words, this is the point where you have achieved your goal (getting up at 8am every morning, smoking 3 cigarettes a day, quitting smoking completely…) and you continue to struggle to resist the temptations that could cause you to relapse.

But BEWARE, there are two things you need to know about these steps :
  • These different stages should not be viewed as linear steps to climb, but rather as a cyclical process. You can move from one stage to another at any time. That is, you can advance through the stages and then return to a stage you’ve already passed.

III. Some practical tools to foster motivation for change 

We’ve seen that it’s possible to change and stay motivated.But when relapse happens, or you backslide in the change process, it can be discouraging. So I’m going to give you some tools to help you gain motivation on the one hand, and maintain it on the other.

  1. If you’re in the pre-contemplation stage (those around you are telling you there’s a problem, but you don’t really realize it) but you’re starting to wonder about a possible problem

If the behavior is not a concern for you, you won’t want to change (this is the pre-contemplation stage). So, asking yourself the question ” is this behavior a problem for me/in my life ? ” is a first step toward change !

To help you answer this question, you can make a decision balance (see table below). This is a chart with the pros and cons of not changing on one side, and the pros and cons of changing on the other. Your motivation to change will be stronger if you see the disadvantages of not changing and the benefits of changing. And this chart will allow you to concretely visualize these aspects !

If you are at the contemplation stage or beyond (you are well aware that there is a problem and you want a change)
(e.g. cutting down on cigarettes, quitting smoking, getting up at 8am every day…)
Benefits :  Benefits :
DisadvantagesInconvénients :
  1. If you are at the contemplation stage or beyond (you are well aware that there is a problem and you want a change)

You need to be aware of the barriers to maintaining your motivation :

  • Be aware of thoughts that inhibit behavior (PIC) in favor of change. These are the thoughts that lead to postponing action. These are thoughts like ” I’m stressed right now so it’s not the time to quit smoking, I’ll quit when I’m less stressed “. Small aside, smoking increases stress, so this excuse is not really an excuse…
  • Be aware of your resistance to detach yourself from a known, reassuring behavior or habit. As said above, changing a behavior or habit takes effort and it’s not easy. So you need to be aware of this so that you are not surprised in your change process.

You need to remember that being afraid of change is normal, but that this fear is not necessarily legitimate. This fear tends to parasitize your motivation. So keep in mind that :

  • Making efforts is generally experienced as unpleasantin the short term, but will be beneficial in the long term.
  • To reach a goal, we tend to choose the easiest path : this is the principle of minimal effort. But the easiest pathis not always the best !
  • When you commit to a goal, you will be highly motivated at first, but you may lose motivation when you relapse. But keep your goal in mind. Because the further you get into the process, the more motivated you’ll be ! The intensity of motivation goes with the intensity of difficulty.

You need to develop and maintain your pleasurable activities, find a good balance between efforts and comforts.Yes you are in a dynamic of change, but everything in its time. One change at a time ! When you start a change, you have to keep some benchmarks that don’t change in parallel.

And above all, be kind to yourself and congratulate yourself on every step you take. Don’t minimize your efforts ! If you want to get up at 8am every day and you used to get up at 12pm, congratulate yourself when you manage to get up at 11:30am as a first step !