Skip to Content

As a financial advisor and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), I partner with clients to address some of their biggest perceived obstacles in life. This goes beyond finances, as oftentimes how we think about making financial decisions is tied to how we believe we can (or can’t) achieve our life goals. A common theme in these conversations comes down to how we deal with change. Some of us are better at it than others, but whether we like it or not, to move forward and make positive progress, we must deal with change.

Change may seem difficult and scary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding where you are along your life stages can provide structure for getting started and achieving successful change.

In his work as a clinical psychologist, James Prochaska developed the Stages of Change model. This model was built on his research about how people who were ultimately successful had moved through change.

Stage 1 is defined as Pre-Contemplation.  Think about a time someone told you something they thought you should do. You may have left the conversation thinking, what are they talking about? This is a stage where you are unaware or under-aware of a problem. Prior to the conversation it had never occurred to you that there was an issue.  This is what we define as being in pre-contemplation. The likelihood of change is virtually nil at this point, even if you have confidence in the person sharing the concern.

Stage 2 is Contemplation. You are beginning to understand the logic or reason for a change. Maybe your doctor has suggested you change your diet;  reduce sugar or fat, or begin an exercise routine, like a regular daily walk or run. You might not have thought there was a problem, but now, after speaking with your doctor, are considering his/her advice and suggestions for change. This is contemplation. This is the stage where we can get stuck or frozen, sometimes for a long time. From the outside, others may perceive we are stubborn or in denial.

For people who successfully navigate change, being in ambivalence or questioning the change is a normal part of the process. It is normal human behavior to prefer the status quo, unless there are good reasons to change. Part of the way to test our ambivalence is to ask probing questions: Are we confident we can make this change? How ready are we to make the recommended change? Finally, how truly important is the change to us? If it doesn’t rank on the higher end of a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these areas, there is a good chance we’ll stay put with where we were. Research shows that we need 3-4 positives for every one negative to propel us toward a change decision.  If not, we are likely to choose the status quo.

Let’s say you’ve written up a list of pros vs. cons and are beginning to feel ready.  You’ve moved past ambivalence, and are ready for the next step.  Stage 3 deals with Preparation. This is a great time for logistics, planning and details. Lots of questions, concerns and solutions can be researched at this stage of the process. One pitfall is that we go straight to research before working through the ambivalence that crops up in the contemplation stage. We focus on getting as much information as possible, often before we sort through the normal ambivalence. Conversely, we may jump from contemplation straight to action and skip the important step of preparation. Most behavioral changes ultimately fail if we move too quickly.

Stage 4 is where we finally get into Action. Advisors are here to help you act and implement your plans. However, we can best help you by not getting ahead of ourselves. It is crucial to spend the time needed in the earlier stages before getting into action. Once you’ve made the journey through ambivalence and prepared for action, it will be much easier to implement the agreed upon course.

The final stage 5 is Maintenance. This is the easy part because you’ve worked through the inner obstacles and dealt with the hurdles.  We can build on the gains earned in the prior steps and move together into lasting change. Some finetuning might happen but there is generally real confidence in executing and maintaining the plan. If not, we can always go back to an earlier stage.

A final thought: While change usually happens outside of our comfort zone, pressing pause on a change can often be the right answer from a change management perspective.  Maybe you aren’t ready right now or it’s just not a priority.  Or you need more resources in place before you can move forward. Most people will go backward and forward through these stages before they reach action and maintenance.  Change is a process.  It helps to be kind to yourself as you contemplate changes and to find people and resources that can help you achieve it.

We are here to help and walk the journey with you. Contact us to start the conversation.

Additional Resources:

Listen to Steve’s podcast, “Why Working With an Advisor Can Get You The Life You Want.”


  • The Transtheoretical Model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992)