Mental Health

The 5 Stages of Behavioural Change

behavioural change
Recovery from mental illness often requires a complete lifestyle change. Behavioural change takes time, patience, perseverance, and acceptance.

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What are the 5 key stages needed for behavioural change?

Recovery from mental illness often requires a complete lifestyle change. In regards to a restrictive eating disorder, it begins by trying to manage the sufferer’s intake in order to regain physical stability. However, the biggest and most difficult change isn’t the physical weight gain, it’s the emotional and mental trauma that comes along with it.

As I began to work through recovery earlier this year I slowly realized that my condition is nothing to do with weight and more to do with what’s happening internally. Weight is just only an illusion, used to cope with chronic stress, low self-esteem, and mental distress. In order to give myself a fighting chance in recovery, I needed to look at my behaviours and attitudes.

6 Rules of Behavioural Change:

1. It’s a simple concept but it’s far from easy

If behavioural change were easy, we’d all be able to do it within the week. Recovery wouldn’t take so much time, money and effort, and we’d back to our reasonably normal lives without a second thought. However, the reality is that complete behavioural change takes massive amounts of time, patience, perseverance, and acceptance. Without all of these stepping stones in place,

2. It’s incremental

In recovery, it’s expected to take two steps forward and one step back. As you’re getting closer to recovery, yet standing still. That’s exactly why the small changes that you’re making need to be acknowledged and celebrated! “You put the washing on? Amazing!“ “You managed to stick to eating 6 times today? Well done!” 

3. It’s going to be slow

When trying to create change you’re creating new habits and neural pathways in your brain and it can be a lot like painting the Sistine Chapel; It can’t be rushed. In order to create a habit, you need to repeat them over and over again so that it becomes almost automatic. You also need to learn how to disconnect the old habits in order to make room for the new, shiny and healthy habits you’re working so hard on forming.

4. Change doesn’t happen without discomfort


5. Change is facilitated by having or developing specific personality traits

This is a bit of weird one but basically what it means is there are 3 ‘C’s and 3’P’s in regards to personality traits that can better initiate change. The good thing about these traits is they can be learned by those who don’t naturally possess them (like me, I have to or had to learn a good portion of these in order to get anywhere in recovery).

Here they are:

  • Curiosity: The curiosity to engage in and give change a try. Without it, you won’t bother moving from your comfort zone.
  • Compassion for the self: You have to be compassionate with yourself to even begin to entertain the idea of change. If you aren’t going to be nice to yourself then why bother with recovery?
  • Caring for the self: Again you need to take care of yourself and your emotional and physical needs in order to engage in and stick to change.
  • Practice: You need to practice self-care, compassion, and recovery every day in order to make it work. Remember those habits and pathways? The more you do something (practice something) the easier it becomes and the more likely it is to form an automatic response in your brain.
  • Patience: Be patient with yourself. Remember point 3? The change will not and can not happen in a matter of hours.
  • Persistence: Keep going and keep moving forward.

6. Put one foot in front of the other

You’re going to have bad days but those bad days don’t define the rest of your life. Let your past be the sound of your feet on the ground!

5 Key Steps to Behavioural Change:

In order for change to work, you have to be willing and ready to do so. If you don’t take anything else from this post, remember this: if you are not ready and not committed then it simply won’t work.

For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to use the below model of change because it’s one I used during management classes in university, so I’m fairly familiar with the concept.



There are 5 main stages and during any of these phases, specifically with recovery from mental illness, relapse is always possible but not desirable.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation

At this stage, you’re unaware of an issue or in denial that you need help.

Stage 2: Contemplation

At this point, you’re aware of the problem and you’re thinking about taking steps to recovery. You may actively be seeking support at this point or you might not know where to turn in order to get the ball rolling. At this point in the game, stagnation is possible in that you have vague plans to recover but nothing set in stone. You’ll just float in no man’s land for a while until you decide to either bite the bullet and enter treatment or remain the same.

Stage 3: Preparation

You’re planning to change and you’ve set yourself out goals in order to help you do that. I advise you to make your goals public in order to rally up the troops for support, or even just to hold yourself publicly liable.

Stage 4: Action

Now you’re putting your goals to work. You may already be lucky enough to be engaging with therapy or services of some kind. Be aware that there will be setbacks and small relapses are always ever-present. Don’t be disheartened. I’ve been there, I’m still there some days and you will be too. We aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to struggle to stay at stage 4. Be kind, patient and keep pushing ahead through it all.

Stage 5: Maintenance

In regards to Anorexia Nervosa, the maintenance phase comes after weight restoration and emotional healing. You need to ensure that you continue to practice good habits, eat well, be kind to yourself, remain confident and don’t look back. As humans, we often look into the past. We regret we contemplate, we mourn and we reminisce about the past. Unlike Lot’s Wife, looking back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll turn into a pillar of salt (that is you will not fall into bad habits just by simply thinking about it). You don’t have to pretend that it never happened because chances are that this experience has shaped you into the person you are and will be. Instead, use the experience as a lesson and not as a romantic notion that you keep locked away in a box ready to come out whenever times are tough. I did and look where it has gotten me?

“What stage of behavioural change am I in?”

You can switch from one stage to another in a matter of seconds so it isn’t as straight forward as getting into a lane and sticking to it. Even if you are in the middle of therapy it doesn’t mean you’re 100% committed all the time and ready for action.

Recovery of any kind is like an internal war being waged inside your own mind every day. There are conflicting emotions and thoughts that’ll cause a lot of confusion and frustration, and nothing about it is simple. It’s not meant to be so don’t be disheartened if you don’t know where you are in recovery. That’s okay. God knows I switch my commitment back and forth depending on my sleep and what day it is.

Above all else, be kind to yourself and have patience.


behavioural change

My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.

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