by Joe Sinclair

(Change is a process, not an event)

A model for change is only as effective as its ability to serve in the process of change.  

Models of all kind are interesting pointers to uncharted territories, or for providing new vistas of familiar systems.  They may be exciting, eye-opening, imagination-rousing, mind-broadening, or simply interestingly innovative, but they remain somewhat sterile without the ability to effect change.  A map is only useful if the territory it represents is accessible.  

The Transtheoretical Model of Change not only displays a territory marked by the five signposts of Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance, but it provides strategies and processes that may be readily and effectively applied in most areas of existence where change or momentum is desirable or desired.  

There is a considerable literature available for detailed exploration of these processes, much of it on the Internet, and I will be providing some signposts for you to access that information at the end of this article.  First, however, I want to give a fairly brief overview of how the processes may be applied.  

I have chosen four areas to illustrate this.  Firstly a condition for which the TTM was much used in its early days (and, indeed, persists): that of addiction.  Secondly, its application to student motivation.  Thirdly, as applied to team development and team leadership.  Finally, as I have myself experimented with it, in the area of plotting and scriptwriting.

Here is a visual representation of how the processes of change interact with the stages of change:  

     FIGURE 1: Stages of Change in Which Particular Processes of Change Are Emphasized


Consciousness raising

Dramatic relief

Environmental re-evaluation


Social Liberation





Reinforcement management

Helping relationships


Stimulus control

          based on Prochaska et al. 1992

As can be seen, the processes commence at different times in the stages of change.  This illustration features ten processes.  The original model by Prochaska and others featured nine.  Different writers give different names to some of the processes.  Sometimes they are put in a different order.  But the basic concepts remain the same.

Let me take them in the order in which they appear above, with a brief illustration of how they can be applied to our four studies.  Note that these are merely suggested options and you may very well come up with more appropriate examples for yourselves.

Consciousness Raising. Increased awareness about causes, consequences, and cures.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). Discovering and learning new health facts.  

(b) Student Motivation. Questions may have been raised about falling grades.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Group performance is less than satisfactory.  There may be a sense of apathy.  Perhaps a complaint has been made.

(d) Plotting.  A problem situation is established.  It needs to be interpreted, confronted, and behavioural patterns defined.

Dramatic Relief. An emotional reaction to a situation may be experienced.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). The person may experience fear and worry about the consequences of their behaviour.

(b) Student Motivation. A poor examination result may produce a sudden, sharp shock.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  The loss of a contract may lead to questioning leadership style or group motivation.

(d) Plotting.  An event occurs that produces a reaction to the situation.  At this stage the concern and involvement of the protagonist may be stated.

Environmental Re-evaluation.  An assessment of how the behaviour may impact on one's social environment.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). The potential harm and discomfort to other people from one's addiction may come into awareness.

(b) Student Motivation. Concern may be experienced about how falling grades or failure in examinations may affect family and friends.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  How is the behaviour of the team leader or any individuals in the team affecting an external situation?

(d) Plotting.  What is happening outside the protagonist's cognition?  It is time to bring in other characters and show the potential effect on them of the problem situation.

Social Liberation.  An awareness of opportunities available to one that could result from a change in behaviour.  

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). How might my quality of life improve if I changed my habits?

(b) Student Motivation.  How might I become more academically successful? What would it cost me?  What would I gain?

(c) Teams and Leadership.  [Leader] Might a change in leadership style produce a positive response in the team?  [Team] Might a more cooperative response produce benefits that I do not currently enjoy?

(d) Plotting.  The introduction of other characters and, consequently, a shift in emphasis, produces unexpected or unexplored options.

Self-re-evaluation.  A growing recognition of our own failure to perform adequately or positively leads to reappraisal.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). I begin to imagine myself free of the undesirable habit.

(b) Student Motivation.  I begin to explore possibilities and potential results of greater attention to study; doing more than the minimum requirement; completing assignments more regularly.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Both Leader and team members start to examine the reward system, personal motivation, and level of skills.

(d) Plotting.  What will happen now if the protagonist changes a behaviour, or if one of the characters takes a positive action.

Self Liberation.  A decision is taken and a commitment made to changing the problem behaviour. 

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). Joining a self-help group.  Taking a course of study.  Buying a "How-to . . ." book.

(b) Student Motivation. Resolutions: assignments will be completed on time;  homework will be produced as required; grades will be improved.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Decisions can no longer be deferred.  Perhaps a training programme may be introduced; outside consultants brought in; coaching and mentoring to be arranged.

(d) Plotting.  A decision is taken that introduces an entirely new factor to the plot equation.  

Reinforcement Management.  A reward given to oneself or provided by others will help to reinforce the positive commitment to the change.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). It is essential to be aware of the danger of negative feedback that might cause a relapse.

(b) Student Motivation. Stress management skills need to be employed in order to prevent relapse.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Specific and detailed tasks may be devised in order to reinforce the programme of action, plus a system of performance-related rewards.

(d) Plotting.  A metaphorical "carrot on the end of a string" may be introduced.  There would be a prize on offer - something to be gained - if an objective is attained.  Will success grace efforts?

Helping Relationships.  Accepting the support of others.  Learning to trust them and, if necessary, to lean upon them.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). This is the time for friends and families to offer unstinting help, emotional support and praise.  Be available!

(b) Student Motivation.  Students who have clearly made an effort to change their earlier disruptive or negative behaviour patterns need to be validated.  If they feel their efforts are not appreciated, they may decide: "What the hell!  Is it worth it?"

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Team Leaders must hold themselves available to support the efforts of their team members.  Inaccessibility will deter colleagues and subordinates in their efforts and may undo all the good that has been achieved.

(d) Plotting.  Help is at hand.   The efforts of protagonist may find support. possibly from an unexpected quarter.  And a seemingly negative situation may suddenly become positive and hopeful. 

Counter-Conditioning.  Substituting alternatives for the problem behaviour.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). Relaxation.  Palliatives.  Healthy pursuits, such as walking, swimming, cycling.  A change of diet.

(b) Student Motivation.  Assertiveness to counter peer pressure.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Public presentations; public appearances.  Action in place of previous apathy.  Actively seeking out situations where ability to lead or to fulfill tasks may be revealed.

(d) Plotting.  Introducing a new factor that brings turmoil into the situation that had appeared to be under control

Stimulus Control.  Adopting measures and other behaviours to control situations where previously the problem behaviour might be triggered.

(a) Addictions (Drugs, Smoking, etc.). Cues for unhealthy habits are removed and healthy alternatives are put in their place.  For example, end a meal with a cup of tea to remove the stimulus of a cigarette with a cup of coffee.  Avoid bars and other smoky environments.

(b) Student Motivation.  Refrain from the habits that encouraged sloth in study - perhaps watching TV, listening to the wrong kind of music, the kind that energised rather than relaxed.  Develop new habits in an environment that will encourage study.

(c) Teams and Leadership.  Give constant publicity to all successes and avoid focusing on failures.  Organise get-togethers, team meetings, conferences, where the focus is on achievement. 

(d) Plotting.  Introduce "red herrings".  Have your characters confronted with threatening situations needing resolution.


The self-change model is by no means the only model I use for plotting scripts or stories.  Indeed, it is only a very small part of plotting, and is usually used when I hit a momentary "block".  There are many other models "out there" that are at least as useful.  But I thought it would be helpful to use it for illustrative purposes here.  I will welcome feedback, comments, (yes, and criticism) from readers.

Further resources (As promised above)