One of the biggest reasons most New Year's resolutions fail is because most of us feel pressured to set a goal based on the date on the calendar, as opposed to our true readiness to transform.

Changing your habits doesn't happen overnight. Whether you want to add a new healthy habit--like going to the gym--to your daily routine, or you want to oust an unhealthy habit--like eating too much junk food--your attempts won't be successful unless you're mentally ready.

As a therapist, I have to carefully assess what stage of change someone is in. If I encourage them to take action before they're ready or I assume they're convinced they should take the leap, therapy won't help.

According to the Transtheoretical Model of Change, individuals experience five stages of change. And understanding what stage you or someone else is in, can be the key to reaching your goals.

Here are the five stages of change:

1. Precontemplation

When you're precontemplative, you won't see any need for change. For example, you may not have any desire to quit smoking or you might convince yourself that being late for work every day is acceptable.

Hearing other people express their concerns might raise your awareness. For example, a friend gently pointing out that you seem to be drinking more than usual or a doctor explaining the dangers of your sedentary lifestyle might cause you to think more about your behavior.

If you encounter someone else who seems to be precontemplative about their habits, it may be helpful to discuss the consequences they're likely to experience if they stay the same. It could help them move into the next stage.

2. Contemplation 

By the time you reach the contemplation stage, you'll recognize the potential consequences of staying stagnant. But, you won't yet be fully committed to changing your life.

For example, you might know your spending habits are digging you deep into debt, but you might continue to live beyond your means because you aren't convinced the benefits of change outweigh the risks of staying the same.

3. Preparation

The preparation stage involves creating a clear plan for changing your life.

That may include researching your options, thinking about potential obstacles, and writing down a plan. Proper preparation can help set you up for success.

4. Action

This is where behavior change begins. Whether that means going to the gym, waking up earlier, or changing your diet, it's all about taking concrete steps toward your goal.

5. Maintenance 

It's easy to stick to your action plan when you feel motivated. But, a few days after you get started (or maybe a few hours), your motivation is likely to dwindle.

That's why the maintenance stage is crucial. During this phase, you'll need to monitor your progress and plan ahead for the challenges you're likely to face.

It can also involve how you're going to deal with missteps and mistakes, because that's part of the process toward lasting change.

Implementing the Stages of Change

If you're looking to create a change in your own life, consider what stage you're in. Take steps to work on that stage before springing into action or before declaring victory.

If you're hoping to motivate someone else to change--whether you want your employees to implement a new program or you're trying to convince your partner to get healthy--consider what stage those individuals are in.

Don't expect them to transform overnight. Instead, help walk them through each stage.

Published on: Jun 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.