Stage 1: Precontemplation ("Never")
"As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any problems that need changing."
"I guess I have faults, but there's nothing that I really need to change."
You're in denial, dude. You probably feel coerced by other people who are trying to make you change. But they're not going to shame you into it. Their meddling will backfire.
Stage 2: Contemplation ("Someday")
"I've been thinking that I wanted to change something about myself."
"I wish I had more ideas on how to solve my problems."
Feeling righteous because of your good intentions, you could stay in this stage for years. But you might respond to the emotional persuasion of a compelling leader.
Stage 3: Preparation ("Soon")
"I have decided to make changes in the next two weeks."
"I am committed to join a fitness club by the end of the month."
This "rehearsal" can become your reality. Some 85% of people who need to change their behavior for health reasons never get to this stage or progress beyond it.
Stage 4: Action ("Now")
"Anyone can talk about changing. I'm actually doing something about it."
"I am doing okay, but I wish I was more consistent."
It's an emotional struggle. It's important to change quickly enough to feel the short-term benefits that give a psychic lift and make it easier to stick with the change.
Stage 5: Maintenance ("Forever")
"I may need a boost right now to help me maintain the changes I've already made."
"This has become part of my day and I feel it when I don't follow through."
Relapse. Even though you've created a new mental pathway, the old pathway is still there in your brain, and when you're under a lot of stress, you might fall back on it.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.