We live in a society which puts great emphasis on success and failure and the related concept of willpower. Often people tend to think they should be able to make changes easily - that it is only a question of willpower. The problem with this is that if you don't succeed as quickly as you'd like (and most don't) then you can feel that you are a failure.

The good news is that there is a more realistic, pragmatic model of how we actually make changes in normal life. Proposed originally by the psychologists, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, it has been represented in many different ways. One version of the model postulates that most people go through the following stages on the way to change:

1. Not considering trying to change at all.
2. Wondering whether change might be possible but not being entirely sure.
3. Deciding to try to achieve change.
4. Acting to achieve change.
5. Maintaining change.

A flowchart depicting the model can be viewed at:


A crucial feature of the model is that it recognises that at any stage it is quite normal for a person to lapse. The person who is trying to give up smoking cigarettes but one day slips up and has a few cigarettes, say in a social situation where others are smoking, is not a terrible failure. They have just had a lapse. If that happens to you (whether the habit or behaviour you are trying to change is smoking or something completely different), you don't need to blame yourself or feel guilty and go back to the old form of behaviour for good. Instead why not just say to yourself something like:

"I've had a lapse - that's normal when people are making changes. I'll try to get back on track now and think about whether there is anything that I can do differently next time this situation arises to avoid lapsing again."

This model applies to changing most forms of problem behaviour which have become a habit, whether the habit is smoking, drinking excessively, eating excessively (or undereating), behaving aggressively, not being assertive enough, acting emotionally, procrastinating, or something altogether different.

The message to take away is that lapsing is normal on the path to achieving major changes - it is not the end of the world. Just treat it pragmatically, recognise any progress you have already made and try to learn how to deal with the situation a little bit better next time. Don't be too hard on yourself! Be practical instead.

Author's Bio: 

David Bonham-Carter, MA, DipSW, CPE is an international life coach and stress consultant with over 15 years experience in the field of personal change management who has been featured on BBC radio giving expert life coaching advice.

Life Coach London, Bristol, UK and Worldwide.

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