Change 102: Precontemplation Stage

Precontemplation Stage .jpg

To continue with the quick lessons on the Stages of Change (Prochaska & DiClemente, 2005), the first stage is the Precontemplation Stage. Individuals in this stage have not given change a second thought. Friends and family may have broached upon the subject with questions like, "Have you ever thought about quitting smoking? You might be able to get more fit if you can run without coughing," but the individual does not see the point in quitting. 

4 Types of Precontemplators

According to Dr. DiClemente, there are four different types of precontemplators:

  • Due to lack of knowledge or motivation to learn, reluctant precontemplators do not want to consider change and are often not aware of the problem's extent. 
  • Rebellious precontemplators will actively argue when change is mentioned. They see your concern as being told what to do.  
  • Resigned precontemplators are those who have decided, "This is the way it is. This is the way I am. There's nothing I can do to change it." They have lost hope in changing and may be overwhelmed by their situation.
  • Those who who they have all the answers and solutions are called rationalizing precontemplators. They have reasons why, for example, smoking is not a problem for them. 

What Can We Do?

As the friend or family member of a precontemplator, we may want to continue repeating why we think they should change, but this may cause the precontemplator to become distant. Here is a list of things that we can do and say: 

  • Be sure to acknowledge his/her current experience and validate that the ultimate decision to change is theirs and theirs alone.
    • "I understand that you may be feeling pressured right now." 
    • "I understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed.
    • "I hear you when you say that you are not ready." 
    • "It is completely up to you to decide if this is right for you."
  • We can gently encourage the individual to do some self-exploration and to reassess their current lifestyle and habits. 
    • "Has your smoking ever caused you any problems? How about in your day-to-day life?" 
    • "Do you think this will cause problems for you in the future?"
  • Begin a light conversation regarding potential reasons for the individual to change. 
    • "Research shows that smoking is known to increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease, so quitting may be beneficial for your health." 
    • "My doctor told me that losing any amount of weight can drastically alleviate my arthritis pain. Maybe you could talk to your doctor too." 

Do you know a precontemplator? Are you a precontemplator? What has been your experience so far? 


Prochaska, JO. & DiClemente, CC. (2005). The transtheoretical approach. In: Norcross, JC; Goldfried, MR. (eds.) Handbook of psychotherapy integration. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 147–171. ISBN 0-19-516579-9.