The 6 Stages of Behaviour Change and how theatre can take people through the process

It is over-ambitious to think that one piece of industrial theatre is going to bring about massive changes in the workplace overnight. Behaviour change is a complex process and individuals go through a number of different stages before they are able to change their behaviour. We all know this from our own (bad) habits of diet, exercise, driving too fast or watching too much TV. On the whole, knowing that something is bad for you is not motivation enough to get you to stop doing it.

The 6 stages of behaviour change

According to the Stages of Behaviour Change model, there are six steps that make up the complex process that a person goes through to change their habits and behaviours.

1: Pre-contemplation / unawareness

People are not interested in change, they cannot see the need for change and they have no intention to change. They may be resistant, defend their current behaviour and avoid information and discussion about the need for change.

2: Contemplation

People start to think about the issue and the possibility that there is a need to make some changes in their lives. They have recognised that there is a problem and that they can do something to make their lives better. In this stage, people are usually thinking about the positive and negative benefits of change, and are open to information.

3: Preparation

People have realised how serious the need for change is, and have made a decision or a commitment to change. They go through ‘pre-change’ steps including gathering information and making plans, as well as reaffirming the need and desire to change.

4: Action / Trying it out

People have made real and obvious changes to their lives and are starting to live their ‘new’ life. There is usually an openness to receive help and support at this stage, to boost their willpower and confidence so that they do not relapse into old behaviours.

5: Maintenance

People are working to consolidate changes in their behaviour, and a number of coping strategies have been put into place and are working. People at this stage need to be reminded of their progress and the benefits of the change, which may now be visible.

6: Termination / Advocacy / Transcendence

This final stage includes the continuation of the change, and the belief that going back to the old behaviour would be uncomfortable and undesirable. This stage can include an element of advocacy, where people feel that they want to encourage the same sort of change for other people that they know. People in this stage can help others in earlier stages.

Using theatre to take people on the journey

When we are creating industrial theatre interventions, we need to be aware that the participants or audience members are most likely to be at different stages related to their own behaviours and change in their own lives. People who are resistant to change will be in stage one, but developing their critical thinking skills (through posing problems in the theatre piece) may help them to move to stage two in this process.  

Showing the journey of a character in a play can help people move from the stage two process of thinking about change into stage three, preparing for change.  

Ongoing support from those who are in later stages of change may help people to move through these different phases.  Continuous programmes in the workplace help to reinforce these ideas and sustain change, so an industrial theatre piece should always be backed up by other communication strategies:  posters, message boards, workshops and other events.  



To read more, see:

Health Promotion Unit (2007) Stages of behaviour change: Community Good Practice Toolkit. Division of Chief Health Officer, Queensland Health.