Photo by Michal Osmenda; Wikimedia Commons

Last week I suggested that if you have decided to change one of your money habits, it is helpful to know your starting point, also known as your current stage of change (Prochaska, Norcross, & DiClemente).

If you know your stage of change, it will help you design appropriate challenges or “homework” for yourself. These challenges allow you to focus your energy and avoid exerting yourself on tasks that are not going to help you get ahead.

So what are the stages of change? Stage one is called precontemplation. It is when a person is not particularly interested in changing and does not want to learn more about her problem. Other people may want her to change, but she has no intention to change in the near future.

Consider an organization where the employer matches workers’ contributions to the employer-sponsored retirement plan. Now think of a woman who works at such an organization but fails to take advantage of the match. Her coworkers encourage her to tap this benefit, but she gets defensive and wonders why they have to make such a big deal out of it. She really doesn’t want to hear about the potential consequences of ignoring the match. Her denial is a good example of stage one behavior.

If your starting point is stage one, your primary task is to become more open-minded and less defensive about the possibility of changing a specific behavior. Do what you can to stop resisting and simply observe.

See if you can identify the walls that you put up to avoid thinking about change. Are you in denial about the consequences of a particular habit? Are you aware of the consequences but prone to minimizing them or explaining them away?

Next, see if you can gather information that will allow you to open up to the possibility of changing your behavior. For instance, can you find out how big the problem is if you refuse to make contributions to your 401(k)? No need to make a decision to change at this point. You are just trying to look around, see what other people do, and see why other people think your current behavior might be problematic.

Eventually, you can speculate why you do what you do and pinpoint which defenses are getting in the way of healthier behavior. You’ll know you have completed this stage when you are able to check your defenses at the door and openly consider the possibility of change.

Do you see any evidence of stage one behavior in your life?