Five stages are identified for any type of behavioral change. The model was primarily developed in the 1970s to chart the changes in smokers trying to quit according to the Boston University School of Public Health.
It has since been adapted for physical activity, so that people incorporating healthy exercise can track their progress toward becoming regular exercisers. By knowing the stages, it's easier to foresee obstacles, stay focused and develop motivational techniques.
Precontemplation or Doing Nothing Stage
Precontemplation is the stage of doing nothing. You may feel comfortable with your level of physical activity or lack thereof according to ACE Fitness. If someone else mentions a need for increased activity, you may deny it outright or ignore the advice.
Even if presented with the dangers of inactivity, such as a greater risk for developing chronic conditions or diseases; a person in the precontemplation stage fluffs it off as happening someday or to someone else. Changing from precontemplation may require motivation that fosters confidence.
Contemplation or Awareness Stage
Contemplation is the stage of awareness. Some people begin to notice they lose their breath more easily or their clothes no longer fit. This may be the stage of "I should . . ." statements, like "I should begin exercising," or "I should lose weight." It helps to set specific goals at this stage. Identify ways that change benefits you in order to motivate you to fulfill your goals.
Preparation or Planning Stage
Preparation is the planning stage when you decide how you will fulfill your goals. You may begin to use "I could . . . " statements, like "I could join a gym," or "I could run outside." At this stage, rely on experts for guidance or motivation to keep your plans realistic and attainable. As you progress from this stage, expect to feel a sense of mental readiness to enact your physical fitness goals.
The Hardest: Action Stage
Action may be the hardest part of the five stages for many people. It's time to start working out. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense cardio exercise every week. That can translate to 30 minutes of activity per day for five days each week. You may perform all of this activity in one half-hour, or you may break it up into two 15-minute stretches.
That can be daunting to someone who is just getting into a fitness routine. According to Rural Health Information Hub, the stages of change are cyclical and a person can easily slip from one stage back to another. If you feel a relapse into a prior stage is imminent, stay motivated with friends, trainers, regular weigh-ins, scheduled measurements or other quantitative reinforcements.
Stage of Accomplishment
The maintenance stage is a stage of accomplishment. Your clothes may fit differently. You may have a lower resting heart rate or perform more quickly for longer periods of time without needing rest. The danger now is that you'll rest on your laurels and stop working out.
Maintenance is a long-term commitment. You can change your workout to stay motivated, but you have to keep working out. Your life has changed successfully from when you were in the first stages of change.
- ACE Fitness: "How to Use the Transtheoretical Model to Help Clients Make Healthy Behavioral Changes"
- Boston University School of Public Health: "The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change)"
- Rural Health Information Hub: "Stages of Change Model (Transtheoretical Model)"
- Health.gov: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”