Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Exploring a Developmental Perspective - Exercise 2

The following activity (designed for the Northern School of NLP's Diploma in NLPt Psychotherapy in 2006) is based on the 'Six Stages of Change' developmental model of Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente (Changing for Good, 1994):

Summary of 'Six Stages of Change' model

Pre-contemplators don’t want to change themselves, just the people around them.  They usually show up in therapy because of pressures from others.  They attempt to change only as long as there is great and constant external pressure.  Once the pressure is relieved, they quickly return to their old ways.  

Pre-contemplators lack information about their problem, and they intend to maintain ignorant bliss at all costs.  Denial is a characteristic of pre-contemplators who place the responsibility for their problems on factors such as genetic make up, addiction, family, society, or ‘destiny’, all of which they see as being out of their control. Pre-contemplators are often demoralised as well.  They don’t want to think, talk or read about their problem because they feel the situation is hopeless.


“I want to stop feeling so stuck” are typical words of contemplators.  They acknowledge that they have a problem and begin to think seriously about solving it.  Contemplators struggle to understand their problem, to see its causes and to wonder about possible solutions.  Many contemplators have indefinite plans to take action within the next six months or so.  Many remain stuck in the contemplation stage for a very long time.  It is not unusual to spend years telling themselves that some day they are going to change.  Fear of failure can keep them searching for an ever more complete understanding of their problem, or a more sensational solution. People in psychotherapy can get stuck at this stage as well.  People who eternally substitute thinking for action can be called chronic contemplators.

When contemplators begin the transition to the preparation stage, their thinking is clearly marked by two changes.  First, they begin to focus on the solution rather than the problem.  Then they begin to think more about the future than the past.  The end of the contemplation stage is a time of anticipation, activity, anxiety, and excitement.


Most people in the preparation stage are planning to take action within the very next month, and are making the final adjustments before they begin to change their behaviour.  An important step now is to make public the intended change.  But although they are committed to action, and may appear to be ready for action, they have not necessarily resolved their ambivalence.  They may still need to convince themselves that taking action is what’s best for them.

People in the preparation stage may already have instituted a number of small behavioural changes.  Awareness is high, and anticipation is palpable.  Rather than cutting short the preparation stage, it’s better to plan carefully, developing a firm, detailed scheme of action, and making sure that you have learned the change processes that you need to carry through to maintenance and termination.


The action stage is the one in which people most overtly modify their behaviour and their surroundings.  In short they make the move for which they have been preparing.  Action is the most obviously busy period, and the one that requires the greatest commitment of time and energy.  Changes made during the action stage are more visible to others and therefore receive the greatest recognition.  The danger is that many people, including professionals, often erroneously equate action with change.  Although modifying behaviour is the most visible form of change, it is far from the only one; people can also change their level of awareness, their emotions, their self-image, their thinking, and so on.  


Maintenance involves working to consolidate the gains attained during the action and other stages, and struggling to prevent lapses and relapse. Change never ends with action.  Maintenance can last from as little as six months to as long as a lifetime.  Without a strong commitment to maintenance, there will surely be relapse, usually to the pre- contemplation or contemplation stage. It is at this stage that ‘willpower’ alone knuckles under to temptation.


This is the ultimate goal for all changes.  Here, a former addition or problem will no longer present any temptation or threat; the problem behaviour will never return, and there is complete confidence [in an ability to] cope without fear of relapse - no matter how tough the situation. In the termination stage, all of this holds true without any continuing effort. This is the exit of the cycle of change.  

JL's Notes:
- Personally I think the term ‘TRANSCENDENCE’ more acurately describes this stage than 'termination'.
- Some types of problems can be 'terminated' and some types require a lifetime of 'maintenance'. It's important to know which is which.


  • An understanding of Prochaska’s 6 Stages (see Summary above)
  • Review the description and accompanying diagram (below)
  • 6 pieces of paper each with one of the stages named


In pairs, an Explorer and a Facilitator. A total of 45 mins should be allocated to each Explorer.

In Part A this equates to a maximum of 3 minutes to anchor each state to a different position, and 5 mins in the meta Developmental Perspective  — and the same for Part B.

One possible example of a spatial arrangement of the six stages:

Part A - purpose

For the Explorer to get a developmental perspective on a personal change that is historic, i.e. a change they’ve gone through and are at Stage 6 (Termination).

- Explorer is spatially 'anchoring' a different way of being at each stage.
- In Part A the Explorer does not tell the Facilitator what the change is.
- The aim is not to get into the content, but to describe the state and thinking at each stage and spatially anchor that to each position. (i.e. the Internal State, Internal Process, and External Behaviour, not the content).

Steps of Part A

Explorer uses a change they’ve gone through and are at Stage 6 (Termination).

i. Explorer places the papers with the 6 stages where they need to be (not necessarily anything like in the diagram).

ii. Explorer is facilitated to anchor the Internal State, Internal Process, and External Behaviour (not the content) of each of the 6 stages to the relevant location.

iii. Explorer goes to Developmental Perspective ('meta') position, and:

- Describes the overall flow through all the stages (metaphor might help here!)
- Looks for, and takes note of, the transitions between stages.

Part B - purpose

For the Explorer to experience a developmental perspective on a personal change that is current, i.e. a change they are going through and are at Stage 2, 3, 4 or 5.

Steps of Part B

i. Explorer take a still in-process change and identifies which Stage they are currently at.

Using the same anchored locations as in Part A, Explorer:

- Visits each previous stage, and identifies what enabled them to move through that stage.
- Stops when they’ve reached the present, and describes where they are now in this change process.
- Describes what needs to happen to move to the next stage.

ii. Explorer moves on to experience and describe what it will be like when they are at each of the future stages. (The aim is simply to experience being at the stage with this particular change — it does not matter how they got there).

iii. Go to the 'Developmental Perspective' position:

- What else do you notice about your developmental process?
- What do you notice about perceiving from a developmental perspective?

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. James has also written (with Marian Way) the first book dedicated to Clean Space: Insights in Space. Between them Penny and James have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
 »  Home  »  Models and Theory  »  Theories of Change  »  A Developmental Perspective
 »  Home  »  The Developing Group  »  A Developmental Perspective
Article Options


Clean Language
Symbolic Modelling

James Lawley
Penny Tompkins

more info

view all featured events