Stage Five: Maintenance
Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habit. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo. People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made.
People in maintenance constantly reformulate the rules of their lives and are acquiring new skills to deal with life and avoid relapse. They are able to anticipate the situations in which a relapse could occur and prepare coping strategies in advance.
They remain aware that what they are striving for is personally worthwhile and meaningful. They are patient with themselves and recognize that it often takes a while to let go of old behavior patterns and practice new ones until they are second nature to them. Even though they may have thoughts of returning to their old bad habits, they resist the temptation and stay on track.
As you progress through your own stages of change, it can be helpful to re-evaluate your progress in moving up and down through these stages.
(Even in the course of one day, you may go through several different stages of change).
And remember: it is normal and natural to regress, to attain one stage only to fall back to a previous stage. This is just a normal part of making changes in your behavior.
Along the way to permanent cessation or stable reduction of a bad habit, most people experience relapse. In fact, it is much more common to have at least one relapse than not. Relapse is often accompanied by feelings of discouragement and seeing oneself as a failure.
While relapse can be discouraging, the majority of people who successfully quit do not follow a straight path to a life time free of self-destructive bad habits. Rather, they cycle through the five stages several times before achieving a stable life style change. Consequently, the Stages of Change Model considers relapse to be normal.
There is a real risk that people who relapse will experience an immediate sense of failure that can seriously undermine their self-confidence. The important thing is that if they do slip and say, have a cigarette or a drink, they shouldn’t see themselves as having failed.
Rather, they should analyze how the slip happened and use it as an opportunity to learn how to cope differently. In fact, relapses can be important opportunities for learning and becoming stronger.
Relapsing is like falling off a horse — the best thing you can do is get right back on again. However, if you do “fall off the horse” and relapse, it is important that you do not fall back to the precontemplation or contemplation stages. Rather, restart the process again at preparation, action or even the maintenance stages.
People who have relapsed may need to learn to anticipate high-risk situations (such as being with their family) more effectively, control environmental cues that tempt them to engage in their bad habits (such as being around drinking buddies), and learn how to handle unexpected episodes of stress without returning to the bad habit. This gives them a stronger sense of self control and the ability to get back on track.
In addition, there is one more stage, Dr. Kern has added which is not part of the Prochaska-DiClemente Stages of Change model:
Eventually, if you “maintain maintenance” long enough, you will reach a point where you will be able to work with your emotions and understand your own behavior and view it in a new light. This is the stage of “transcendence,” a transcendence to a new life. In this stage, not only is your bad habit no longer an integral part of your life but to return to it would seem atypical, abnormal, even weird to you.
When you reach this point in your process of change, you will know that you have transcended the old bad habits and that you are truly becoming a new “you", who no longer needs the old behaviors to sustain yourself.