How to change a habit? Guest blog by Aidan McCormack (Emotive Coaching & Consulting)

Posted: 20th February, 2020 in Business start-up, Case Studies, Communications, Motivation, Personal effectiveness, Strategy & planning, Time Management, Tips & Tricks, Training and mentoring

Have you ever wanted to change a habit and struggle to succeed? Have you ever wondered why you failed? Or what you need to do to make these changes?

Human routines are stubborn things, which explains why only 12% of all resolutions are successful, according to a recent survey of over 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman.

Bad habits are hard to break—and they're impossible to break if we try to break them all at once (Wall Street Journal, 26 December 2009). To understand why so many people fail, we need to understand the nature of habits. 

In the 1970s Dr James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed a behaviour theory called the “Stages of Change”. It is particularly useful when trying to understand behaviour habits. The theory says “People go through six cyclical stages when trying to change a habit”.

At the Pre-contemplation stage, people don’t even think about changing. They may be in denial or have tried to change a habit so many times they have given up. It is difficult to influence someone and any attempts to persuade them may even lengthen the time between each step.

In the Contemplation stage, people are thinking about change but are ambivalent about it. They may see giving up behaviour such as smoking or overeating as a loss rather than a gain. They may seek information about their bad habit and begin to weigh up the barriers and benefits of changing. This can take many months.

During the Preparation stage people may experiment with small changes as their determination to transform increases. It is at this time the coach can work with the coachee to make a plan, set goals and decide how they are going to achieve them

Keeping goals realistic, small and achievable is important. Keeping a focus on the positive outcomes and what can be accomplished, rather than what is impossible is essential. For example, deciding to complete a marathon when one has never jogged around the block is likely to fail. Whereas, aiming to run a 5km race is far more realistic.

Action precedes motivation and not the other way around. This is where the person makes the change. The action motivates them to move onto the next step. If the previous stages have been glossed over with no plan made, then the action is short-lived and many people relapse to the pre-contemplation point.

The Maintenance and Preventing Relapse stage is crucial; it is when the new habit is formed. This involves incorporating the new behaviour until it becomes a habit. According to statistics, those who keep their resolutions for “at least two years report an average of 14 slips or setbacks during that time”, so don’t be alarmed.

We have to put as much time and effort into forming good habits as we did our bad habits. Often people assume this stage just happens – it requires thought and support. In the event of a relapse start again. It takes between 7 and 28 days for a new habit to form (action stage). Yet maintenance and preventing relapse can take a life time. 

When the new way of being is firmly in place, fully assimilated into a new way of living, then and only then can we regard the lifestyle change as permanent. Though some awareness and conscious behaviour is required, we can generally call the lifestyle change complete and successful. This is the Termination, or final step.

For more information on Aidan McCormack and Emotive Coaching and Consultancy see

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