Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Best Ways to Create Personal Change

8 steps to create positive, lasting personal change in your life and work.

Key points

  • Successful change typically involves readiness, a solid plan, a sense of agency and commitment, and incremental steps.
  • Readiness for personal change is an essential ingredient for successfully reaching your goals.
  • Be specific about what you want to change and set a clear goal.

Many of us are struggling to create positive change in our lives. For example, would you like to: Engage in social action? Organize your space — office, garage, closet? Eat more healthfully? Make a career change? Learn a new skill? Organize your photo collection? Exercise more regularly? Begin a new hobby or activity? Assemble a 500-piece puzzle? Manage your time more effectively? Something else?

Gerd Altman / Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altman / Pixabay

If you’re considering tackling a new goal in your professional or personal life, how ready are you to take the necessary actions needed to achieve it? Experts have found that successful change typically involves readiness, a solid plan, a sense of agency and commitment, and incremental steps.

If you’re struggling to tackle a goal or create personal change in your life or at work, here are eight steps to empower yourself.

1. Pinpoint your readiness by understanding the personal change process.

Readiness for personal change is an essential ingredient for successfully tackling and reaching our goals. Decades of research on behavior change highlight the importance of readiness. Behavior change typically unfolds gradually as we move from little or no awareness/interest, toward considering the change, to planning and taking specific actions (Zimmerman, et al, 2000). By understanding the readiness process, we can proceed more effectively and with less discomfort.

Researchers Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente (1995) outline a cycle of six stages of successful personal change. Knowing about these steps can help us increase our chances of successfully navigating toward our goals.

Here’s a brief summary of the six stages of change (Prochaska, et al, 1995):

Readiness Stage 1: Not yet thinking about it (pre-contemplation). We have little or no awareness that the behavior is a concern or causes negative consequences; no intention to change or feel unable to change.

Readiness Stage 2: Beginning to think about it (contemplation). We see positives about making the change. We begin to consider moving in that direction, but have no true intention to take action.

Readiness Stage 3: Planning, setting goals, and beginning small steps (preparation). We are developing specific plans to create action within the next month and may already be taking steps toward the change.

Readiness Stage 4: Taking steps to make it happen (action). We are actively changing behaviors and making choices to move forward. Coping with challenges, we are building momentum toward the chosen personal change.

Readiness Stage 5: Keeping it up — sustaining the change (maintenance). We have made the changes and achieved the goal for a significant period of time; we actively intend to continue going forward.

Readiness Stage 6: It’s a well-practiced, long-standing habit (termination). The new behavior is automatic and it’s no longer a temptation to return to the old behavior.

2. Figure out how ready you are. If you’re considering a change, here are a few questions to help you identify your state of readiness:

  • What are the benefits of changing this behavior? How will your life be different?
  • What are the potential negative consequences of this behavior?
  • What are your concerns about changing this behavior?
  • How does this behavior, or lack of it, get in the way of your ability to achieve your goals in life/work?
  • How important is making this change?
  • How ready are you to commit to what it takes to change?

3. Identify what you want to change. Be specific about what you want to change and set a clear goal. Clear goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. It can help to understand why this goal is important to you and how achieving it will benefit you.

4. If you feel ready to begin preparation or action, consider these self-inquires:

  • Are your goals and plans realistic?
  • What support systems can you call on for encouragement or to help you hold yourself accountable?
  • What obstacles might get in the way and how can you deal with them?
  • How will you celebrate successful milestones along the way?

5. Have a good plan. A solid plan specifically identifies what, where, when, and how things will be done. What specific steps will you take, what are the potential obstacles, and what will you do if things don’t go as planned (Halvorson, 2010).

6. Persevere toward your goal, and take one step at a time. Start with the first step. Determining whether you are ready to create change and actually making meaningful change happen is a process that begins with the first step. Each action can take you toward the change you hope to achieve. Psychologist Ellen Langer, Ph.D., writes: “There is always a step small enough from where we are to get us to where we want to be. If we take that small step, there's always another we can take, and eventually a goal thought to be too far to reach becomes achievable” (2009; 2016).

7. Consider your level of commitment toward reaching your goal. Self-efficacy means believing that you have the ability to do what you say you’ll do. When you believe you are capable of beginning and maintaining a behavior, you’re more likely to work toward your goals and achieve them (Bandura, 1994). When your sense of personal efficacy and commitment is high, you may be more firmly committed to achieving your goals. Strategies such as observing others as role models, visualizing yourself taking action and achieving success, and talking about your wins can help you improve your self-efficacy.

8. Lean on your support network. Consider partnering with a friend, colleague, or professional to help you generate wins on your path toward your goals.

A coach can encourage you to (Moore, et al, 2016):

  • Assess your readiness for change.
  • Build your self-efficacy.
  • Identify and implement goals, strategies, and accountabilities to help you do what you say you will do.
  • Set clear, measurable steps to create action and assess your progress.
  • Develop contingency plans identifying what you will do when things don’t go as planned.
  • Get motivated and maintain your momentum.
  • Rebound more quickly from setbacks. Improve your chances to create the successful and long-lasting changes you choose to work toward.

Here’s to your joy and empowerment.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or healthcare professional.

©2022 Ilene Berns-Zare, LLC, All Rights Reserved

This post was also published at IBZ


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.

Berns-Zare, I. (2020). Six powerful ways to build new habits.

Berns-Zare, I. (2018). Just start: You don’t have to like it to do it.

Halvorson, H.G. (2010). Succeed: How we can reach our goals. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Langer, E.J. (2009). Counter clockwise: Mindful health and the power of possibility. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Langer, E.J. (2016). The power of mindful learning. Boston, MA: DaCapo Lifelong Books.

Moore, M., Jackson, E., Tschannen-Moran, B. (2016). Coaching psychology manual, (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.

Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C., Diclemente, C.O. (1994). Changing for good: A revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Zimmerman, G.L., Olsen, C.G., Bosworth, M.F. (2000). A ‘states of change’ approach to helping patients change behavior. American Family Physician, 6(5), 1409-1416.

More from Psychology Today

More from Ilene Berns-Zare PsyD

More from Psychology Today