Small Steps to Live Your Best Life: The 5 Stages to Help You Reach Your Goals

new years resolutions

It’s a new year, which we all universally associate with resolutions and a fresh start; are you going to be one of the few that stays the course to make real change? The biggest barrier to achieving our goals is negative thinking or giving up. It takes preparation and planning, but if you have the appropriate steps, support and drive, you can succeed. 

Stage 1

The first step in making change is to realize that there is something in your life you don’t like. In this, the pre-contemplation stage, you don’t really have an intention to change. Rather, at this stage, you gather information and input from those around you. You may do some research, or you may become aware that friends and family have been commenting more and more about a particular behavior you didn’t even recognize as problematic.

It is at this stage we begin to develop the motivation to change. This typically starts with gathering more information about the behavior to be changed. A smoker may recognize he’s coughing a lot more. A person dealing with a weight issue may recognize how uncomfortable they feel in social settings. Friends may comment on how much you’ve been drinking. You may realize your outward behaviors no longer square with your inner values.

Stage 2

At the contemplation stage, the internal debate about change begins. The individual begins to weigh the costs and benefits, both of making the change and of not making the change. There’s a lot of uncertainty and questioning. Writing it down and making comparisons can help you weigh things out. It’s also a good time to think about obstacles and ways to overcome them.

Stage 3

In the preparation stage, you’ve made the decision to change in the immediate future. There’s a timeline and a goal. You might “test the waters” to see if the desired change is possible and how difficult it might be. For example, a smoker may set a goal of making it through a day without a cigarette. The dieter may eliminate between-meal snacks for a day. These “trial runs” are building confidence and setting you up for the next stage.

Stage 4

In the action stage, you’re fully committed and actively working toward the goal. Progress may be slow, but it is steady. At this stage, your commitment can really be challenged. Friends and families may unwittingly sabotage your efforts. The best friend who urges you to just take a bite of a dessert; the brother who offers a cigarette even though he knows you’re trying to quit. Now is the time to use the strategies for the preparation stage. Surround yourself with others who are, or have, tackled the same change. Expect to relapse, but don’t allow it to be an excuse to return to former bad behaviors. Celebrate your accomplishments.

Stage 5

The final stage, maintenance, is achieved when the desired behavior is firmly in place, typically after about six months. You’re smoke-free. You’ve achieved your goal weight. You wouldn’t dream of missing a workout. The risk of relapse is always there, but it lessens as time goes on. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and continue to apply the lessons learned in the earlier stages.

Getting help

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as strong and resilient, able to rise to any challenge. As a result, there can be a stigma around those who seek help. But some changes can only be achieved with help.

The path to change is not one you have to travel alone. New Vista professionals provide individual, family and group counseling. We use evidence-based treatment to help clients achieve their fullest potential.

At New Vista, we're the Community Mental Health Center providing clinical services to nearly 25,000 adults, children, and families in 17 Central Kentucky counties. New Vista is a mission-driven nonprofit working with the communities to develop innovative programs to respond rapidly to both individual and community needs. If you or a loved one needs help living your best life, please call our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.800.928.8000.