Growth Requires Change: Moving Through the 6 Stages of Behavior Change

Behavior change is not always easy, and it takes a little time, but knowing the stages of behavior change will make the process more successful and more fun.

“A lot of the money that I’m making is just slipping from my fingertips, and, yeah, it’s a bit out of control.” -Jasmine, nonprofit employee.


If your bank balance doesn’t match your expectations or your spending habits are unrecognizable then it may be time to make a change. Behavior change is not always easy, and it takes a little time, but knowing the stages of behavior change will make the process more successful and more fun. According to the Transtheoretical Model, or Stages of Change Model, there are six stages of behavior change and once you realize that you want to make change, congrats, you have already made it to stage 2!

Stage 1: Pre Contemplation

There is no change happening here, yet! At this point in the process, you probably haven’t named the problem or pain, but you are probably feeling it. Some psychologists say you’re like a fish swimming in a tank of stress without a clear idea of how to break free. Don’t worry though. This stress is telling you something important, and is the key to making a change. 

Stage 2: Contemplation

Now you’re beginning to see the connection between the stress and your regular routine. Maybe you share Jasmine’s concern about not knowing where your money is going every month. You recognize your spending habits may be problematic and in this stage you weigh the pros and cons of changing your ways. For example, you want to dive into your spending habits, but time is so tight right now. This stage is important because without first contemplating the need for change, it’s unlikely that you will be motivated enough to take the necessary steps to modify your behavior. Now you’re a fish in a bowl of stress, looking for a way out but not necessarily sure of what that is, or that you have enough confidence to jump! Again, this is a necessary and invaluable step, what you learn about yourself in Contemplation will power your through the next stages of change.

Stage 3:  Preparation

In the Preparation stage, you’re getting ready to change. After recognizing you want to make a change and weighing the pros and cons, you form your Plan. When creating your Plan, think specifics. Answer the questions “when” and “how”. When we think through the specifics we are setting our “implementation intention” and this leads to more, better, faster success. Using Jasmine’s example, she decided to track every transaction (how) and she is going to do this daily (when). If you were a fish, you’d be planning your escape!


Stage 4:  Action

Time to put all that motivation and desire to work! This is where your Plan comes to life! You are implementing your behavior change. How are you feeling? What are you learning? This is a great time to journal and document the real changes happening and to revisit why you are doing what you are doing. 

Our friend the fish has now jumped free from their bowl into the wide open lake nearby. Feed your motivation in this step, it takes a lot of energy to make a change and you deserve to fill your cup along the way.

Stage 5:  Maintenance

You are living your Plan and seeing progress. Congrats! This is the time to celebrate every small win. It’s also a time to observe the temptation to return to the previous way of life. You’re swimming free, but occasionally you see a very tasty worm on a line and it looks delicious. We can’t underestimate this step, it’s a challenge but like every stage in the Behavior Change process, you can feed your maintenance phase with recognition, motivation, and celebration.

Stage 6: Relapse

Real talk. Relapse is inevitable. People do not magically change overnight and along the way you will relapse. What matters is how you treat yourself in this moment. It is critical! If you judge and shame yourself, you cut short your ability to learn and grow. Whereas, if you are patient and gentle, you create space to observe what triggered you to go off course, what you need more of, and how you would like to move forward. 

Relapse takes you back to somewhere between stage 1 and 3. It’s super valuable to remind yourself of your “why” and walk through what happened. When you’re ready, revisit your Plan and determine what steps you want to take to get back on the path to change. Don’t hesitate to call on your support network!

Changing your behavior in order to make financial progress is an important step on your path to Money + Life Balance. If you recognize behaviors or habits you want to change, knowing the Stages of Change will give you greater opportunity to realize success. Behavior change takes time. Give yourself grace if you experience a setback and don’t forget to celebrate every small win along the way!