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How to Navigate the Change Terrain

Have you ever wondered why is change so difficult? Have you wondered what you can do to successfully navigate the change terrain?

Essentially, change is difficult because once a self-regulatory system is in place, it seeks to maintain itself. It’s akin to the thermostat on your heating and cooling system. Once a set point for the temperature has been established, then the system works automatically, efficiently, and effectively to maintain that set point.

So, how can we generate a new set point? How can we establish a new self-regulatory system?

Read on to increase your change IQ by discovering the stages of change, the typical roadblocks you’re apt to encounter on the road to change, and some principles you can use to increase your odds of successfully navigating the perilous territory between where you are now and where you’d like to be in the future.

The Stages of Change Roadmap

Successful behavioral change is a process that unfolds over time and involves navigating the stages of change. Based on 40 years of research, which was spearheaded by Prochaska and DiClemente, evidence suggests that there are essentially 5 stages of change:

  1. Stage 1 (precontemplation): In this stage, people are often unaware that their behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. When aware, they overestimate the cons of changing and underestimate the pros of changing. So, they don’t intend to take action to rectify the situation in the foreseeable future. Individuals in this stage tend to talk in terms of “I won’t” or “I can’t” make the change.
  2. Stage 2 (contemplation): In this stage, people recognize that their behavior may be problematic. However, they’re also conflicted about change. Because they’re caught between the pros and the cons of changing, they often have a hard time getting off the fence. Nevertheless, people in this stage intend to start the healthy behavior sometime in the future. People in this stage say, “I may make the change.”
  3. Stage 3 (preparation): In this stage, people are ready to take action in the near future. They start to take small steps toward the behavioral change, and they believe changing their behavior can lead to a healthier life. People in this stage say, “I will make the change.”
  4. Stage 4 (action): In this stage, people have recently changed their behavior and intend to keep moving forward with that behavioral change. Individuals in this stage say, “I am making the change.”
  5. Stage 5 (maintenance): In this stage, people have sustained their behavioral change for more than 6 months, and intend to maintain the behavioral change going forward. In this stage people work to prevent relapse to earlier stages. People in this stage say, “I am still making the change.”

Once you know the stages of change, they can function like a roadmap that helps you identify where you are on your change journey. This map, coupled with an understanding of a) the typical roadblocks you can expect to encounter along the way and b) a variety of science-backed strategies for overcoming those roadblocks, can greatly increase your chances of successfully reaching your desired destination.

Typical Roadblocks on the Road to Change

The research used to detail the stages of change also lays bare the typical roadblocks people face when they attempt to navigate the change terrain. These challenges include:

  • Don’t know how: facing a learning curve, feeling like a stranger in a strange land, feeling disoriented and overwhelmed
  • Demoralization: feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that arise after repeated failures
  • Defending: the many ways in which we unwittingly protect our unhealthy behaviors such as withdrawing, going silent, tuning out, internalizing, projecting, displacing, rationalizing, and intellectualizing
  • Doubt: feelings of ambivalence that arise from wondering whether or not change is worth the trouble
  • Delay: procrastination that comes from feelings of doubt
  • Dread of failure: postponing change through the search for certainty
  • Distress: daily stress that leaves us feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of change

Principles to Overcome Roadblocks to Change

Finally, nearly 40 years of research into the change process has revealed what successful self-changers do to overcome the typical roadblocks to change. Drs. James and Janice Prochaska detailed these strategies, which they call Principles of Progress, in their book, Changing to Thrive. Like the successful self-changers the Prochaska’s modeled, you can use these science-backed strategies to successfully navigate the change terrain. These 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Increase Your Pros
  2. Increase Your Consciousness
  3. Use Dramatic Relief (pay attention to your feelings)
  4. Decrease Your Cons
  5. Use Environmental Reevaluation (discover how your behavior hurts others)
  6. Use Self-Reevaluation (discover what kind of person you’d like to be instead)
  7. Make a Commitment to a Better Life through Self-Liberation
  8. Counter Conditioning to Use Substitutes for Unhealthy Habits (substitute healthy for unhealthy)
  9. Reinforce Your Progress by Using Rewards
  10. Foster Helping Relationships and Find Someone You Can Count On for Support
  11. Increase Personal Freedom through Social liberation by Noticing Social Trends
  12. Practice Stimulus Control to Manage Your Environment to Make Healthy Habits Automatic

In sum, there’s lots to know about the change process. There’s even more to discover about the science-backed strategies you can use to successfully navigate the change terrain, the territory between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

If this brief review sparks your curiosity, I invite you to read the book, Changing to Thrive. I also invite you to add a dedicated change advocate to your support team (principle #10).

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Disclaimer: The information provided through this Website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise, weight loss, or health care program.


  • Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and process of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(3), 390-395.
  • Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C., & DiClemente, C. C. (1994). Changing for good: A revolutionary program that explains the six stages of change and teaches you how to free yourself from bad habits. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Prochaska, J. O., & Prochaska, J. M. (2016). Changing to thrive: Using the stages of change to overcome the top threats to your health and happiness. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

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