The Seven Stages Of Change

When openly embracing a sustainable lifestyle, you will inevitably have to make some changes to your current way of living.  How you deal with these changes will determine the success or failure of that change.

There has been a lot of research regarding how humans cope with changes, so I will try to explain the different stages of change, and what to expect when embarking on your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.  This research is about change in general and can be applied to all facets of life.
Please note that I am not a psychologist, just someone who has gone through an incredible change, and hopefully can articulate from experience what each stage feels like. The information provided is a rehash of many sources found on the web, that I have collated into a sensible and easy to read format.

During my life’s journey I have found that change is an unusual and personal thing. I have noticed that some people embrace it and find it exciting, while others resist it with their very last ounce of strength.  Why is that so?  Why would humans rather endure pain and discomfort of the status quo than change for the better.  Usually, the change happens when they realise that the pain of the status quo is a worse place to be than the change itself or the new reality. Change can be made by you or made to you.  I prefer the former!

Lets dig a bit deeper to discover the emotional stages that happen when humans are confronted with a change.  I found this diagram below which is a seven-stage adaptation of the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the acknowledged expert on grief and bereavement. Following the publication of her book “On Death and Dying (1969)”, it became clear to practitioners that the stages in the grief model were transferable to all personal change and had a far wider relevance than just to death and dying.  So, based on the evidence that all change contains some sort of loss, her model is used to this day to map where an individual is at any given stage of a change that is affecting them.  (Click chart to enlarge)

Now, although the stages are fairly consistent for each change you may experience, the speed at which you move through the stages varies from person to person.  You could fly through the first two stages and get stuck in Self Doubt for ages before you finally accept the change, or you could whiz through to Experimentation in just a day.  It all depends on how expectant or open your mind was for the change.

Lets go through each stage whereby I have attempted to articulate the types of emotions that you may (or may not) experience during the stage:

Stage 1 – Shock.  This reaction is usually immediate and from experience, it can be within a few hours.  Even if you have planned this change, the fact that it is actually upon you will give you a strange feeling of disorientation.   This stage will last longer if it is unexpected.

Stage 2 – Disbelief/Denial.  You have usually managed to get back to everyday life at this point.  Intellectually, you know that the change has happened and what may happen, however emotionally, you may block out the new reality from daily life.  You will probably be processing this new reality in your sub-conscious mind. Cognitive Dissonance usually occurs at this stage, and you are more likely to get stuck in this phase if you are change resistant.

Stage 3 – Self doubt.  This is a very uncomfortable stage.  Old habits and beliefs are no longer relevant, as are some of the things that used to be important to you.  Your sense of identity will be shattered.  You feel a sense of nothingness until you develop a new way of ‘being’.  Your confidence will be low, and you may be fearful of the future, become angry, depressed, and have an overwhelming sense of guilt.  I have personally felt doubt as to whether I have made the right decision or whether I am up for the job.  You also may want to seek isolation to mull it over further, and at the same time feel unmotivated.

Stage 4 – Acceptance.  You have come to the decision to accept the change and face the future.  By letting go of the past reality, the pain goes away and finding your new way of being becomes exciting and a challenge rather than a loss.  Your energy levels will be going up, as this stage usually begins just after rock bottom on the emotional scale. You still might not know what you are going to do, but at least you know that your reality has changed.

Stage 5 – Experimentation.  You try something new from the new paradigm, but don’t be surprised if you can’t stick to the plan.  You could be all over the place, trying little changes to fit with your new reality.  You will still be working it out in your mind, however your energy levels continue to rise.  Try little things before attempting any major change at this stage, because you may slip back to self-doubt if a large experiment goes pear shaped.

Stage 6 – Search for meaning.  When you have embarked on your journey towards your new reality, you may start to appraise where you were before the change occurred, what has happened since, and why.  You will begin to fit your experience into your “life story” and re-examine your view of yourself and the world around you.  You will start to make sense of it all.

Stage 7 – Integration.  At the end of the change process, and all being well, you will be comfortable, confident, and a feeling that you belong or are seeking belonging in your new way of life.  

Now just a realisation on my part.  Change may be difficult at times and for a long period, but it can also be exciting, energising and uplifting.  It is a part of life.  Also remember that just because there is a model, it does not mean that everyone will experience all stages or the same change in the same way as others.  Every person is different and the above model is for guidance only and is based on my own experience.  Yours may differ significantly.

I see major changes happening within our society, and I see many people stuck in stage 2 – Denial/Disbelief which is disheartening.  However lately I have noticed many more people who are more advanced and are well towards the end of the cycle and seeking like minded individuals or groups to enforce their new paradigm.  I often write on my personal blog about the big issues like climate change, peak oil, collapse, and demonstrate the things you can do to soften the blow and assist.  Living a simple, green and frugal lifestyle will help to us no end, as will paying down as much debt as you can.  However, if you have a basic understanding what stage of change you and others around you could possibly be in, it could help to adapt to the current situation in a better way.

I wish my family and I had have know about the stages of change when I was going through my very own green epiphany!  Maybe my wife would not have thought I was having a mid life crisis at the time.


  1. says

    We are not all equal in this family in our drive to live greener. So we move forward and take steps back all the time. I’d say we fluctuate quite a bit between stages 4-6 – the teens are sometimes in acceptance, sometimes just close to it, but seldom get past it. My husband and I are usually in experimentation, with me up as far as search for meaning at least occasionally. My husband is enthusiastic about green lifestyle changes that save money, but without that motivation, he’s less interested. The teens “get it” and living green is preached as school quite a bit (both schools are aiming toward zero waste, for example), but are stuck in the perspective of “it won’t make any difference if just a few people do this, and I’m not going to make my own life difficult while everyone else gets to live it up burning energy and resources”. They might not put it quite like that, but that’s the gist. Water use is a great example of this: we have an official 5 minute limit on the shower in our family, but I am the only person who seems able to stick to this; the others are routinely up at 10 or more minutes. Their reasoning? We live in an area of abundant rainfall and natural water systems, using less water here is not going to help the other parts of the world, so we’re just going to go ahead and have longer showers. My economical husband is happy enough with this – when I pointed out the cost savings on hot water if less was used, he pointed out the low flow shower head does a great job of reducing our costs there…it’s frustrating sometimes, but I have to recognize small achievements when we have them, and just build from there. I think we have some work to do as parents to help our children develop a mindset that sees benefit in doing things for the greater good, instead of putting themselves first. And we have to work on that ourselves!

  2. says

    I find too that I can be at different stages with different parts of the journey. We have 3 children under 4 and we have 2 in nappies and 1 in night nappies. Cloth nappies are hard work and although we use compostable disposables ( there are plenty of times that we fall off that wagon. Every time we climb back on we do better though. With other parts of the journey though, such as green cleaniing we are powering ahead and at the stage where the habits are set and there is no need to think about it any more. It’s great! And our full change to sustainable living and self sufficiency will hopefully begin a month from today (auction day for the house we are after).
    I watched An inconvenient truth the other day and it was great (for me to watch) I also watched Food Inc which had a big impact on me but A Crude Awakening has been my epiphany film and it put me in a HUGE tail spin of “what’s the point? It’s all too late” and all the huge negativity. I watched Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil the next evening which has inspired me in a massive way and given me hope.
    Our journey is therefore spread out along that graph, covering most stages in different ways.

  3. says

    I love the path I’m now on and looking at your chart I believe I’m part way between experimentation and searching for meaning. I hoped I was at integration but the experimentation is taking far longer than I thought. That’s ok though – it’s lots of fun and hubby and I are both of an inquisitive nature and trialling new ideas and reworking old ones is something we have always done. Like you I talk a lot about changing our lives, growing veg etc. Some like it, some don’t – but that’s ok. If I even plant a seed of an idea (pardon the pun) then it was worth all the bored looks I get.

  4. says

    We started self sufficiency for frugality and simple living reasons. The benefits have been so abundant and positive and we have embraced the change but the more I read to learn more, the more I start to get involved in peak oil scenarios etc. I certainly believe that we can’t keep taking and using but my partner thinks I am spiralling into a doom theory because I am “surrounded” by people of like minds. You can see that we are on the same page but not quite the same paragraph in my house. BTW nice photo Gav.

    • says

      Hi Tanya. Kim sometimes stops me talking about Peak oil and climate change in mixed company, because some people don’t know how to take me. Once I get going, I find it hard to stop.

      Some folk just don’t want to know, and are stuck in the denial/disbelief stage, which does take time to get past.

  5. says

    Hi Gavin,
    I wish I had known more about climate change, peak oil and all that goes with it a long time ago as I thnk it would have made for a better life than what we were living. We love our new greener life and don’t feel pressured to ‘keep up with the Jonses’ anymore. I f I remember correctly from my nurses training On death and dying many moons ago I believe that you often fluctuate from one stage to another and sometimes even regress a couple of stages at times before you finally reach the final stage.

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