There are six stages that a person typically passes through in order to make lasting changes that eliminate harmful habitual, obsessive, or addictive behavior.

Before you think, "Harmful behavior? That doesn't apply to me," reflect for just another moment. Nicotine, prescription drugs, repeatedly checking your phone for messages, obsessing over your weight--dependency takes many forms. Is there anything in your world that you feel compelled to think about, do, or consume regularly?

Something as innocent as food, for example, can be habit-forming. I personally can verify this with my strong desire for a piece of dark chocolate in the evening. I have long identified this treat as a trigger food for me--one that is difficult to limit to a small portion size. What are your triggers?

Once you know your weakness and embrace your desire to take control over it, you've made a significant leap. And chances are, if you feel this way, you're past Stage 1, Pre-contemplation, and Stage 2, Contemplation. You may even be beyond Stage 3, Preparation.

If you're reading about how to proceed, clearly you feel ready to move on to a concrete plan. I applaud you for making this important decision! But before you take any action, please arm yourself with some wisdom. As Dr. James Prochaska writes in "Changing for Good," it's important to know what stage you are in during the journey toward change. Skipping stages may result in more relapses and lack of solid results.

So, round out your knowledge of the whole process. Here are the next three steps to prepare for as you make the choice to regain control over your wellness-compromising behavior.

Step 4: Action
The essence of change is Action. Depending on the addiction, "action" could consist of many different moves: purging your pantry of sugary treats; throwing out cigarettes and related items; or enrolling in an evening activity that forces you out of "work stress mode" at a reasonable hour, for example.

Many people recognize that Action is a significant stage since your progress becomes visible to others. This can feel like pressure at first, but it's a good thing: Once your new health commitment is obvious, you've taken a great step toward accountability for your success.

In my practice, I've seen people stumble in this stage. Be alert for Action Stage pitfalls:
- There is no "magic bullet." No single act or method is guaranteed to be the one that will be the most productive for you. That doesn't mean change can't be done; you just may need to dig deeper into the holistic toolbox--adding acupuncture and stress management, for example--until you find the combination of techniques that maximizes results for you.
- Don't expect instant results; measure your growth realistically. You have succeeded at Action when you have quit smoking (or whatever behavior you wish to change) consistently for six months.

Step 5: Maintenance
If you were a smoker and have stopped, yet still experience temptation, this is your stage.

In the Maintenance stage, you must take steps to prevent relapse. Often when we feel discouraged, stressed, or overwhelmed, the "just this once" impulse will instigate a negative cascade of events, which can result in going back to the old behavior. Dr. Prochaska acknowledges that setbacks and relapses are common events. Often with addictions, it takes several tries before a person finds success.

I've seen this firsthand. Trendy quick-fix programs often fail to take Maintenance into account. Maintenance can put a stop to backsliding, but it sometimes can be a lifetime effort. It requires steady vigilance, as those who experience the weight-loss "yo-yo effect" will attest. But periodically renewing one's commitment to lifestyle change and taking credit for your accomplishments will help keep motivation in place.

Step 6: Termination
Research has shown that age can be a factor in how quickly a person reaches the final stage of change. For instance, smokers may lose the taste for cigarettes with age, so some older smokers quit for good after a shorter process than younger ones. Conversely, aging overeaters may experience steeper challenges in maintaining healthy weight since aging can result in injuries that lead to a more sedentary lifestyle.

But regardless your age, you CAN reach the ultimate change goal, Termination.

At this final stage, the former addiction is no longer a threat: You have complete confidence that you can successfully handle new exposures. You are able to maintain your resolve despite emotional upsets such as sadness, stress, and disappointment.

In short, you'll have arrived at success. What a worthy goal!

If you haven't committed to making a healthful lifestyle change yet, please do so now. (New Year's is too long to wait when you're excited now, right?) You'll be giving yourself the greatest gift possible: renewed health, improved energy, and confidence and self-reliance that will spill over to create success in all aspects of your life.

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta's goal is not only to relieve patients' illness and discomfort, but to help them set realistic goals for physical and mental preventative care and overall wellness. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers.