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The Wheel of Change - what it is, and how it can help us to achieve our goals

We’ve all made new year’s resolutions, only to have broken them within a few weeks. This is because making a lasting change in behaviour is not easy or simple. The fact is it takes a lot of effort, emotion, commitment, support, and time.

The so-called ‘Wheel of Change’ [James Prochaska, Carlo Di-Clemente] was developed to help people to identify where they are in the cycle of change and to describe how lasting change comes about. An important element to realize is that change takes time and does not happen instantly. The responsibility for change lies within the individual, but support is a very important element.

The wheel of change can be applied to almost any situation, which could be weight loss, quitting sugar, giving up smoking, or any element of our life course, such as changing careers or relationships.

The theory is that to successfully change something in our lives, we need to go through key stages until the change is permanent. Additionally, we may need to go through it a number of times before the change sticks.

The wheel is used to identify which stage you or a friend or family member is at, and by identifying the stage, you can better understand what to do to move forward around the wheel.

Important principles to keep in mind

1. It’s quite natural to lapse at any point/stage of the cycle

2. The cycle is about learning, and if we lapse or relapse, a better understanding is gained about how and why it happened, what was working and what wasn’t

3. People can go through it a few times before the change is permanent – lapsing is not a failure!

4. Sharing the change, you are aiming to make with your friends or loved ones can help you to move to the next stage of the cycle

5. Change takes time and patience

There are 6 stages of the wheel of change


1. Pre-contemplation

This stage means the person is not ready to change and has absolutely no intention to change or to take any action. There is usually denial or ignorance that there is a need to change and trying to persuade someone to change in the next 6 months will be a pointless exercise. If you are concerned about someone, it might be worth talking to that person about their current behaviour, while also acknowledging the decision to change is completely theirs.

2. Contemplation

Stage 2 is about contemplation that brings a realization that change is needed. What needs to change is clear and there is an awareness that change needs to happen. However, there will also be some hesitancy and it could be that you are feeling quite conflicted and thinking ‘I’m 50/50 about this’. At this stage, it’s helpful to weigh up the pros and cons. Starting to make a change may come within 6 months, but not in the immediate term. To support someone, you might talk about the positive outcome and benefits of making changes, to help move them to the next stage.

3. Preparation

Experimental change starts to happen in baby steps, and this is where encouragement and positive thinking are needed. Having a plan of action, with goals in mind will help. Small steps are vital, to building confidence and momentum. It’s also important to understand what barriers to change exist, and how to overcome them, e.g., if you are trying to give up sugar, it might not be helpful if you have a partner who still wants chocolate in the home.

4. Action

This is where real progress is made, where encouragement and support are vital, even some kind of reward, depending on what change is being made. It might also be helpful to build new connections, related to the action and change being made. It is important to remember the benefits of the change and reflect on how far you have come.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” Socrates

5. Maintenance

Stage 5 is about sticking with the change that has been made for a long period of time, without temptation or relapsing to the previous stage. Confidence is higher and there will be new interests and connections made. The benefits of change are solidified.

6. Relapse

It is important to be aware that relapsing at some stage is likely, and it may take several cycles of the wheel for permanent change to take place. It’s important not to see this as a failure, but to keep on trying to act. It is important to remember how far you have come and to understand the triggers that caused the relapse. Learn what worked and what to do differently going forward.


The wheel of change is a fantastic tool that can be used for ourselves and our personal circumstances, and/or for a friend or family member, to understand, help and support each other. Health coaches use the cycle of change to help, support, encourage and empower you to move through the stages and achieve your health and wellness goals.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” CS Lewis

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