Skip to Main Content (717) 697-3223

Change: Is Your Cart in Front of Your Horse?

In 1983 two researchers named James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente were trying to figure out the most effective way to bring about a change in behavior.  Throughout human history many methods have been tried. 

Maybe you had a coach growing up who made you run laps every time you made a mistake.  Maybe you had a parent who offered treats as a reward for accomplishments in school. Whether the carrot or the stick approach worked better probably had more to do with your desire to change and your knowledge of how to make that change. 

What Prochaska and DiClemente discovered has become the gold standard for all kinds of behavior modification programs – from smoking cessation to weight loss to addiction treatment.  They found that every behavior change is a process.  People will not make changes for the better in their lives until they go through certain stages in this process. 

The first stage is called Precontemplation. It is when a person is not even aware that there is a problem.  Others may see the problem, but the person needing to make a change does not.  An adult child may start to see Mom “slipping.”  Mom is neglecting her hygiene, forgetting to take medication or taking it too often, or asking the same question over and over. 

Mom may not be aware that some changes will need to be made, but the adult children see the problem.  The adult children are wondering how Mom’s bills will be paid and what caregiving will be necessary. 

People who become aware of a problem enter the second stage of Contemplation. Every January people decide they are overweight or spending too much or smoking too much.  Unless a person takes the additional step of learning how change might happen, the person will be stuck with the problem.  Learning about options and resources happens in the third stage: Preparation. 

A person who simply wants to lose 20 pounds is focused on an end result.  Preparation is learning the small steps that will lead to that result.  Education is crucial to accomplishing any significant change.

At Keystone Elder Law, we know that our clients have thought about their families and their future long before calling us.  People who contact us tend to have a vague idea of a better future they want to achieve.  We strongly believe in education to empower people.  The more someone thinks about ways to secure a better future, the more likely the plan they eventually develop will work for their unique circumstances. 

In the world of estate planning, there are quick and easy off-the-shelf options.  Want a will? Go online and download one. Will that plan protect a person’s savings from likely threats?  No, it will not.  Jumping from awareness of a concern to the fourth stage of change – Action – will usually fail, because Preparation is key. 

This is why we encourage people to attend our weekly online workshops.  There is a Workshops tab at where people can register, learn, and prepare for action. Later this month, we will hold in-person workshops in Carlisle, Camp Hill, and Enola for the same purpose. 

We are so serious about educating middle class families about threats and solutions that we are taking our education to the next level in 2023.  Every Saturday at noon, I will be hosting the Later in Life Planning Show on WHP 580.  After the show airs, each episode will be available at and wherever you find podcasts.  The show will take a deeper look at specific challenges that people face and explore possible solutions.

It’s possible that some people are aware of certain concerns that they have.  The workshops and radio shows will show them options to resolve the concern.  The same people may have other problems but not know about them.  During the workshop and radio show, they will learn about threats to middle class families and ways to shield themselves from those threats. Education helps people make progress through multiple stages of change – Precontemplation and Preparation – at the same time. 

The later years of life bring a mix of concerns involving health, caregiving, finances, and changes in the family.  About 70% of the population will need a higher level of long-term care during their lifetime.  That care can be very expensive, but few have taken any steps to protect their savings. 

How people transfer property to the next generation can result in tax mistakes and long-term care consequences.  Too many people jump into Action without educating themselves about options and consequences. 

Maybe you have experienced or witnessed some of these later-in-life challenges.  That puts you in the Contemplation stage, simply wondering about your own future with these challenges.  If you have not even thought about later-in-life challenges, you are in the Precontemplation stage. 

It’s wonderful to hear people committing to take action toward a better future.  But effective and lasting change for the better must go through the Preparation stage.  Wherever you are in the stages of change, education will help.

So, attend a Keystone Elder Law workshop from the comfort of your home or attend one in person.  Ask questions! Listen to the Later in Life Planning Show on WHP 580 or on your favorite podcast player.  Understand the likely threats in your future and learn how to build a shield to protect yourself and your family.

Patrick Cawley, Attorney