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January 7, 2018
by Hilda Huj

New Year's Resolutions and Stages of Change

January 7, 2018 21:12 by Hilda Huj  [About the Author]

The beginning of the new year may seem like an ideal time of the year to make a significant change. Therefore, around 58% of people make some kind of New Year’s resolution. However, only around 9% of them are successful in achieving their resolution (Statistic Brain Research Institute, 2017).

So, what accounts for this significant discrepancy and what should we know in order to increase our chances of achieving our New Year’s resolutions? In order to answer these questions, this article will focus on the Transtheoretical Model that describes different stages of change we all go through when making a behavioural change.

The Five Stages of Change

Studies of change have found that we move through a series of stages when making a behavioural change. While the time we can stay in each stage is variable, the tasks required to move to the next stage are not. Certain principles and processes of change work best at each stage to reduce resistance, facilitate progress, and prevent relapse. Those principles include decisional balance, self-efficacy, and processes of change (Prochaska, Redding, and Evers, 2002).

Precontemplation (Not Ready): When we are in the Pre-contemplation stage we do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future, which usually measures as the next six months. During this stage, we lack insight into the need that change needs to happen, as well as advantages and disadvantages associated with the needed change.

Contemplation (Getting Ready): During the Contemplation stage we usually intend to change in the next six months. In this stage, we are usually aware of advantages and disadvantages of the needed change. However, weighting between the advantages and disadvantages of changing can produce profound ambivalence that can cause us to remain in this stage for long periods of time. This phenomenon is often characterized as chronic contemplation or behavioral procrastination.

Preparation (Ready): Preparation is the stage in which we intend to take action in the immediate future, usually measured as the next month. Typically, during this stage, we already have a plan of action ready to be put in place.

Action: Action is the stage in which we have made specific overt modifications in our behaviour within the past six months. Because the action is observable, the overall process of behavior change often has been equated with action. However, the Action stage is only one of the five stages of change.

Maintenance: Once we are finished with the Action stage, we continue to work on preventing relapse in the Maintenance stage. While in the Maintenance stage, we are less tempted to relapse and grow increasingly more confident that we can continue our changes.

Connection to New Year's Resolutions

In the context of Transtheoretical Model, it becomes obvious why most of our New Year’s resolutions fail. The resolutions we make are only declarative statements that usually represent the stage of Contemplation, or at best Preparation, but certainly not Action.

Realizing that we need to change something is a step in the right direction - a step past Pre-contemplation where there is no conscious awareness that a change needs to happen. However, once we do that we still have a very long way to go, with many stages to pass through, before we can achieve the resolutions we made.

The problem with making New Year's Resolutions and being in the contemplation stage is that it lets us feel like we have done something. However, in reality, we have not done anything at all. Our situation is exactly the same after making New Year's Resolutions as it was before making them. Therefore, the New Year’s resolutions are fluff, a facade, nothing but the pleasant feeling of pseudo-accomplishment.

In addition, as mentioned previously, weighing between the advantages and disadvantages of changing can produce profound ambivalence that can cause us to remain in this stage for long periods of time. This phenomenon is often characterized as chronic contemplation or behavioral procrastination. And once we are done with the contemplation and procrastination, it may seem to be too late to make a decision.

Making Effective Resolutions

If we want to make effective New Year’s resolutions, we should have a clearly laid out plan outlining how will we bring about the change. Then, we should start enacting this plan as soon as possible and do that on a consistent basis. Only this would allow us to move from the Contemplation stage into Preparation, Action, and Maintenance stage, respectively. Without moving forward to these three stages of change we are sure to fail to achieve the resolutions we made.

However, even if we follow all of the previously mentioned steps, success is not guaranteed! Why? Well, there is a trap. If what we are trying to change does not match up with our readiness to change (the stage we are in) our chances of success are slim. And even if we are aware all the stages, we will not be able to force ourselves to go through them. The passage through the outlined stages of change presents a natural process that cannot be forced.

Therefore, in the end, we have to ask ourselves what stage are we in? Once we figure out that, then the next steps will become easier to figure out. By matching what we are going to do with the stage we are in and working towards the next stage will significantly increase our chances for success. So, before making any New Year’s resolutions, we should reflect about ourselves and gain a better insight into our own internal and motivational processes.

Prochaska, J.O., Redding, C.A., & Evers, K. (2002). The Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change. In K. Glanz, B.K. Rimer & F.M. Lewis, (Eds.) Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Statistic Brain Research Institute (January 2017). Retrieved from

About the Author

Hilda Huj Hilda Huj, B.A., M.A.

Hilda is a registered clinical counselling and forensic psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. She specializes in working with youth, adults and families that have been impacted by trauma. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in Psychology in Osijek, Croatia, and subsequently equated her academic credentials to Canadian standards. Currently, she volunteers with the Edmonton Police Services as a Victim Support Worker and also helps to promote Psychology by volunteering for the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta.

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