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The 5 stages of behaviour change

By: Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

Have you ever wondered about the process people go through when trying to change a behaviour?

Psychologists have long thought about and studied human behaviour, all the way back to the late 1800s.

The 5-stage model of behaviour change shown below was developed to better understand how people make the choice to change certain actions. It can be applied when trying to change all sorts of behaviours, including changing one’s relationship with gambling.

Behaviour change model - Stages: Pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparedness, action, maintenance

To understand these five stages better, see the descriptions below:

Pre-contemplation - This stage occurs before we even realise change may be on our radar. At this stage, we haven’t considered any behaviour change yet. A person in this stage may be unaware that their behaviour is problematic or creates any negative consequences.

Contemplation - This is the stage where we may start to question our gambling behaviours. We may consider whether we need to change the way we are gambling or whether we may benefit from altering our relationship with gambling. In this phase, we might consider both the “pros” and “cons” of our current gambling patterns. People in this stage intend to create a behaviour change in the foreseeable future despite recognizing that there may be significant “cons” to a behaviour such as gambling. However, a person may still be ambivalent about change.

Preparedness - After contemplating and considering change, the preparedness stage is where we commit to making a change and start planning it. This may involve talking to a loved one and agreeing to set limits when gambling, researching self-exclusion bans, or seeking out the services of a gambling counsellor. At this stage, people take small steps towards behaviour change and believe that changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle.

Action - In this stage, you action the changes you have been preparing to your gambling behaviours. People in this stage also intend to keep moving forward with these behaviour changes and maintain them in the future. This may involve setting limits, taking out a self-exclusion ban at local venues, and booking and attending the first appointment with a gambling counsellor.

Maintenance - This refers to whatever behaviours we need to continue in order to maintain the intended behaviour change. This may involve continuing to set limits when gambling, extending a self-exclusion ban or taking out self-exclusion policies at other nearby venues, and continuing to seek the ongoing services of a therapist.

The following questions can serve as a guide when reflecting on your current gambling, where you might be on the stages of change model, and what next steps you can take:

What stage of the behaviour change model am I currently in?

Identifying what stage of the model you are presently in is helpful as it guides you as to what you can do next. Remember, we can go through a process of moving back and forth throughout the model. It isn’t a definite linear progression from one phase to the next, and we can sometimes move backward as well as forward.

What do I need to do to move to the next phase?

For example, if you are in the contemplation stage, what might you need to do to move to the preparation stage? Perhaps you need to make a mental commitment and decision to try something different, which may lead you to prepare for engaging in gambling in a different way. If you are currently in the preparation stage, what step might you need to take in order to make that an action?

What are the pros and cons of my current gambling behaviours? What are the pros and cons of making some changes?

Assessing the pros and cons of your current gambling behaviours and the pros and cons of making some changes can help you realise the need for change and motivate you to take action. These questions can help a person who feels stuck in the contemplation and preparedness stages.

Change can be daunting, and as the saying goes, we are creatures of habit. Considering the pros and cons can help you weigh up your behaviours and the prospect of change. If making a change feels like it would be a good thing to do but also a hard thing to do, remember that even a small change is still a change. Set a goal for yourself that seems realistic and achievable to start with.

If you are feeling stuck in pre-contemplation, or are struggling to move to the next phase of the behaviour change model, it may be worth speaking with a therapist or gambling counsellor. Both can talk through the pros and cons and help you identify the appropriate next steps.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.


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