How to Create New Habits & Eradicate Old Ones

Eradicating old habits and making new ones is very difficult. Humans will not exert any outside unnecessary energy where it is not needed.  We are creatures of comfort. Possible change promotes anxiety and discomfort in most people. Our emotions tell us to stay right where we, whether it is beneficial for us or not. What motivates us to change? How do we know how close we are to our newly formed behaviors? When do we realize that we want to change? Why do we sometimes want change in our life and other times we do not? James O. Prochaska was a psychologist who sought to answer these questions. He created the Transtheoretical Model of Change (TTM). His model broke down the stages of change into six clear stages.


model of change

Stages of Change

I. Precontemplation

In this stage you do not even consider that you need to change something in your life. You do not see your current behavior as a problem and avoid the subject if it is ever brought up. You may also be ill-informed on the subject at hand. People in this stage will usually express ways to say it isn’t a problem through…

1. Denial: “I do not have a problem.”

2. Rationalize: Making Excuses.

3. Intellectualizing: Won’t engage in it emotionally.

4. Displacement: Blame others for it.

5. Projection: Say others have the problem.


A way to move onto the next stage of change is to think about the subject more often. If it is on your mind then you will give it more attention and energy. Take away emotion from the changing problem and make it seem more logical. Take responsibility of your own actions and how they influence the problem. This will also facilitate the elimination of your defences. These steps will all lead you to start to seriously think about doing something different.


II. Contemplation

In this stage, you constantly think about the problem behavior or habit more often. Thinking however does not always lead to action. You may procrastinate a lot and insist that you have to have the “perfect” action plan or solution before you actually do something.

In order to move to the next stage you should do the opposite of the precontemplation stage. You should start to seek out emotional motivation for change. Imagine how the problem or bad habit is effecting your life in a negative way. You can also draw up a pros and cons list to see objectively how it is effecting you.


III. Preparation

You begin to decide on action and how it would look like. The preparation stage is exactly as it sounds. You are setting yourself up and are preparing yourself in order to take some steps of action.

In order to move to the action stage you must make the commitment for change a priority in your life. To counteract any anxiety or fear of sudden change, you should prepare meticulously. You can do this by putting a time frame on when you are supposed to reach certain goals, take one small step at a time (Rome wasn’t built in a day & neither will your new habit), tell people in your life about your change. Bringing people into your commitment to change will add outside motivation for you. Be wary of this because studies have shown that talking a lot about your change can actually trick your mind to believe that you are doing more than you actually are.


IV. Action

This stage has you taking the first measurable steps toward change. You have an idea and you are starting to move to it. It does not matter how big or small the steps are. All that matters is that you are attempting to stop or change the behavior. An example for someone trying to quit smoking would be them smoking one less cigarette a day. It could be someone even just parking it the gym for 5 minutes if they want to start trying to workout eventually.

To move on to the next stage you should find alternative solutions to cope with the lost benefits from the original problem. An example for someone who is an excessive drinker would be for them to find other ways to reduce stress and anxiety. They could use mindfulness more often and also pick up yoga or meditation. Try to control your surroundings by not putting yourself in situations that promote your behavior. If you do not want to drink then don’t hang out at the bar. Give yourself rewards and pat yourself on the back when you do make positive steps toward your new goal.


V. Maintenance

There is some debate about the last two stages. Maintenance is all about not falling back into the problem or habit. You are in this stage after a couple of successful months of not having the problem in your life. You can fall back into the old habit if you are not careful so keep on implementing the steps that got you to where you are now. You can stay in this stage or move on into the next by avoiding social pressures. Stay away from the places and people that brought you into the old habit. Constantly remind yourself how bad the old habit was.


VI. Termination

Some people think this stage is never possible to achieve since you can dip back into your old problem anytime you want. This stage is achieved when you have a new self-image of who you are. You do not see any temptation to go back into the old habit and a new habit has replaced the old one (Working out>Eating Junk Food).

If you do fall back into the old stages then know that you can get back to where you once were again.


“Everyday is a battle in the war of who you are.”


Constructs To Understand That Will Facilitate Change

I. Decisional Balance

This sheet is a great tool for you to use throughout any behavioral changing process. It reflects your weighing of the pros and cons of losing your old habit and adapting a new one. This sheet should be constantly changed and updated based off of what stage you are in. The cons list should outweigh the pros in the Precontemplation stage, the pros list should outweigh the cons in the middle stages and if you are in the Action stage then the pros list should outweigh the cons.


Decisional Balance

II. Self-Efficacy

This construct depends on the situation the person is in. It is operationally defined as a person’s perceived ability to perform on a task as a mediator of performance on future tasks. A change in Self-Efficacy can predict how likely the person’s change will last. You can take a short quiz to see where you are in your stage for change.


III. Consciousness Raising (Get the Facts)

Increasing awareness about the antecedents and consequences of the problem. An example is that people who don’t workout will not realize that being sedentary has similar effects to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.


IV. Dramatic Relief (Pay Attention to Feelings).

This involves bringing emotion into the equation.  Emotional triggers are the largest motivator for change.  Someone may find out that their grandfather passed away from lung cancer at the age of 55.  So the 50 year old grandson might have an increased amount of fear that motivates him or her to live healthier.


V. Environmental Reevaluation (Notice Your Effect on Others).

Environmental reevaluation marries together both the logical and emotional components.  An example of this would be an intervention in which the family expresses the person’s problem behavior effect on those he or she loves.


VI. Self-Reevaluation (Create a New Self-Image).

Self-reevaluation also combines both cognitive and emotional assessments the person’s self-image.  It uses reframing to reshape the person’s perceived identity. During the intervention, people might ask the person to “Imagine if you were free from smoking. How would you feel about yourself?”  It focuses more on positive self-imagery and potential strengths.


Behavioral Processes

I. Self-Liberation (Make a Commitment).

Making a commitment holds people more accountable to achieve their goals.  A way to increase commitment is to tell others about your commitment.  This will have them hold you accountable.


II. Counter Conditioning (Use Substitutes).

Counter conditioning requires learning healthy behaviors as substitutes for problem behaviors. Examples of counter conditioning include working out instead of drinking or meditating instead of doing drugs.


III. Helping Relationships (Get Support).

Use family and friends to support and push you toward your goal.  It is hard to completely change by yourself.  Social pressure is a great influence in promoting change.


IV. Reinforcement Management (Use Rewards).

You should reward yourself and recognize when you are making positive steps toward change.  An example of this would be to have a “cheat day” of eating whatever you want if you worked out and ate properly the whole week prior.


V. Stimulus Control (Manage Your Environment).

This is all about removing stimuli and changing your environment to promote growth.  An example of this would be to get rid of all sweets in your house so you are not tempted.  There is a saying that says, “If you want to stop drinking then don’t hang out at the bar.”


Recommended book:

Changing for Good : A revolutionary 6 stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward

Changing For Good - Overcoming bad habits

Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente (William Morrow and Co. Inc, 1992)

Also, check out this video:

style=”text-align: center;”>How to Get Rid of An Addiction

As always, leave a note in the comments and let me know what you think!

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