The Change Cycle: Pre-Contemplation & Contemplation. Video 1

The Change Cycle Model I am sharing with you can be adapted to suit any process of change, so modify this to suit your own needs...

As we embark on the commencement of 2021 & the start of a new school year, this can often be a time of increased stress & anxiety! The transition from the long summer holidays (& somewhat extended year at home from remote learning due to COVID in 2020) back into the onsite school/work routine can be troublesome but you can increase your resilience & coping with the change process, with some understanding about it.

Change is a part of life. It is a natural, organic, dynamic & unavoidable fact. It is demonstrated by the development across our lifespan: from our conception & cells multiplying to an embryo, to growing into a foetus, to our birth, our infant years, childhood, adolescence, adulthood & eventually our inevitable death.

Change is also evident across time, the rising of the sun – morning, noon, afternoon, evening & night. We also have the shifting of the seasons across the year & weather across the day.

When we consider change, we need to think about our responses to change, the settings of which change occurs, & the circumstances surrounding change, consciously or unconsciously.

Time is an important factor in the change process as behaviours typically take time to develop occurring in our early years. We need to understand how our behaviours were formed to understand how to change them, if applicable.

In the “Pavlov & his Dog” experiment, Pavlov discovered that when two stimuli are associated together repeatedly, the involuntary behaviour that was elicited by the second paired-stimulus was elicited by the first paired-stimulus on it’s own, with the example of the REFLEX behaviour of the dog salivating at the sound of the bell ringing when paired with food. The result being when the dog hears the sound of a bell ringing, the dog begins to salivate thinking: “yum dinner time!” This is known as the classical conditioning.

Operant conditioning is shown in Skinner’s Reinforcement theory where voluntary behaviours are learned through positive consequences or REWARDS, or a negative consequences or PUNISHMENT (when something taken away) to a specific behaviour that is either desirable or undesirable. Using this principle, desired behaviours are repeated with positive reinforcement or REWARD.

Bandura’s work on Observational learning further expanded the social learning theory to include children consciously thinking about their behaviour based on: imitating their care-giver (modelling), their history of reinforcement or punishments for previous behaviour, the promise of future reinforcement or punishment & even vicarious reinforcement or punishment. This means that children are able to think about their decisions & be in control of their own learning & behaviour, which is further developed as we grow through the lifespan developmental phases.

This leads us to HABITS!

Habits are unconscious behaviours that don’t need any concentration or thought, for example the process of brushing out teeth. We know the routine of how to use a toothbrush. We put toothpaste on the toothbrush, put the brush in our mouth & start brushing. We do this without any effort or thinking.

As some habits are helpful, healthy & positive, others can be unhelpful or maladaptive. Regardless of whether the habit is positive or negative, it is formed in the same way, known as the Habit Loop.

The Habit Loop is formed by a CUE, ROUTINE & REWARD. The CRAVING is what powers the Habit Loop. The process of The Habit Loop becomes AUTOMATIC.

To further explore this, the CUE is a like an automatic trigger & tell us which mode/routine to use such as my Habit Loop with coffee in this example. At approximately mid-morning (where this time is my CUE to get up & have a COFFEE, is then followed by the ROUTINE, which is a physical, mental or emotional behaviour following the CUE such as getting up from my desk at break-time to make myself (or purchase) a coffee, in order to get to the REWARD, which is a feeling of gratification & worth remembering for future knowledge!

I have associated a mid-morning break with consuming coffee, which has become part of my established routine for the first-half of the day. This then creates the CRAVING process as I have associated a pleasant experience of consuming a coffee – with a break. Which might not be so good for me…!

CRAVINGS can be compelling, engrained & difficult to shift, so at times, our CRAVINGS will override our common-sense.

WHY are cravings so hard to avoid!?

The HABIT LOOP is a set of neurological patterns that can be very difficult to break! Why? Because our bodies naturally produce hormones that impact on our human functioning.

A chemical called DOPAMINE is produced in our bodies & stored in the brain, when we experience a REWARD, which makes us feel really good! A REWARD or PLEASURABLE experience can be anything from winning money, having sex, eating a tasty meal or consuming alcohol & elicit drugs. DOPAMINE is also needed in our body to maintain other functions such as sleep, controlling memory, learning, concentration, mood & body movement.

SEROTONIN is another chemical produced by our bodies & stored in the gut, & this regulates our mood & emotions. SEROTONIN is also responsible for our digestive functions, such as appetite & gut health.

OXYTOCIN is a natural chemical we produce & known as the LOVE drug, as it is associated with sexual activity, childbirth, trust, empathy & relationship-building including bonding.

ENDORPHINS are chemicals which help to alleviate stress & pain, & interact with opiate receptors which behave like the effects of a drug such as morphine. ENDORPHINS are generally released with activities such as exercise or eating chocolate!

All these chemicals work together & interact to maintain a careful balance, however when there is a chemical imbalance, it can lead to IMPULSIVITY, which can further lead to our bodies CRAVING a ‘hit’ of pleasure or REWARD.

The relationship between our brain chemistry is linked with mental health disorders, as well as many other complex systems such as social, economical & situational factors, making this all very complicated!!

So when we talk about CHANGE, it’s simply not that simple However, CHANGE IS POSSIBLE! We need to believe that change is “feasible” & it CAN HAPPEN.

BELIEF & DETERMINATION are the ingredients that make is possible to break The Habit Loop.

Learning to ‘force-oneself’ & be ‘disciplined’ to behave in certain ways, can create a new forced positive habit. To understand this more, we need to consider self-regulation & how we can do this by using our breath as a simple strategy. When we are anxious, we automatically feel physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, ‘butterflies’, sweating, blurred vision, headaches & so on. To overcome these symptoms almost immediately is to focus on your breath, as this slows the heart rate, which will consequently affect the rest of the symptoms. The process of focusing on your breathing is a positive practice called Mindfulness, often used in Yoga, Pilates or Mediation. You don’t need to be a ‘yogi’ or pay to enroll in expensive classes to achieve mindfulness… a simple trick that I teach & encourage everyone to do is: use all of your 5 senses to be in the present moment. For example, sit in a spot ideally outside in nature, & focus on what you can: see, hear, taste, smell & feel/touch. This process will cultivate an immediate sense of calmness.

Which leads us to reasons or motivation for change, whether they are intentional or conscious. Examples are generally related to mental health & wellbeing improvement & to treat addiction (usually impacting health, jobs, relationships & other areas of life) such as: quitting smoking, alcohol consumption &/or other substances, weight loss & increase exercise.

These examples & the need for CHANGE can be interrelated to mental health or physical health conditions & can also be triggered by life events.

The Change Cycle can be adapted to suit any process of change & following is my example.

My intentional reason for change was to increase my fitness, with my goal of completing a 6-week fitness challenge through semi-private personal training sessions. I also wanted to increase my wellbeing & live by my values to increase my overall wellbeing.

I used video diaries to document my change process & published them on my social pages, which was a huge vulnerability for me, as I would be opening up to the public. This added a further layer of complexity for me as I felt a huge responsibility & pressure to succeed!

So here I introduce the Stages of Change model – which can be explained as 5 sequences of phases that unfold over time & create intentional behaviour change.


This model may be linear in process however can/will cycle-back as we will explore further.

The model itself has changed & evolved to become the Transtheoretical model (Prochaska, DiClimente & Norcross, 1992) which includes & considers other theories to be applied to various behaviour changes, populations, events & settings. It has also evolved to include the 6th phase: TERMINATION or DETERMINATION which is defined as the modified behaviour in place for more than 5 years at 100% of the time, with 0% temptation to engage in the previous behaviour (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997)

The Transtheoretical model factors in the Self-Efficacy theory (Bandurra, 1977) including the 4 sources of Performance Accomplishments, Vicarious Experience, Social Persuasion, & Psychological & Emotional States, the Decision-Making concept (Janis & Mann, 1977) balancing the pros/cons of the need for change, & I always consider the grief model (Kubler-Ross) as there is an element of loss through change encompassing an emotional, psychological & physiological response to change.

In this first phase of pre-contemplation, I have no self-awareness that my fitness is an issue. In this phase it is the cold winter months & I am focused on balancing the needs of my family, & my work. I am not engaging in a lot of exercise other than my weekly group Pilates class. Fitness has always been high on my list of values however as a Mum, life sometimes gets in the way & other priorities become the focus.

Then something happened. I moved into the contemplation phase. I started thinking things needed to change as I noticed I felt uncomfortable in my own body.

What was my TRIGGER?

In 2019, returning from a holiday (when we were able to travel!) & considering the next holiday in 2020 (which never happened!) Holidays are a trigger for me as I cognitively & emotionally link holidays with good weather, healthier eating & of course body image!

Changes in season, mainly Spring & Summer, with warmer weather & longer daylight hours calling me to the outdoors is an instant mood lift & shift from my annual winter hibernation. However, the static, sedentary state of being indoors during the winter months contributed to my chronic physical pain, causing me to experience low mood & the wardrobe change to lighter clothing trying to cover the extra, untoned kilos definitely impacted my self-esteem, emotional & mental state as my self-talk became increasingly negative & problematic.

As a Counsellor & I am aware of the correlation between mental health & gut-health so I knew I had to start with food.

I share my insights with you through the phases of the Cycle of Change, with my first video.

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