Changing Behaviors

How often have you tried changing your own behaviors? For instance, you might have tried for years to get up early in the morning, doing regular exercise, or trying to lose weight or eat better. How’s that working out for you? Chances are that you’re finding the new behaviors hard to adopt. Let’s face it — making lasting positive change of any kind can be hard for many reasons. Here are just a few:

When you’re trying to make a change, you have to practice the new behaviors long enough to see results. If you aren’t consistent with the new behaviors, you never get far enough to see those results. This happens because we are motivated by short-term results/rewards. This is why we fail with our diets and exercise routines, for instance.

Then, of course, others can do little with helping us change because no matter how much they want us to change, we won’t change until we want to change. It’s because it has to appeal to our rational self-interest, and most of the time when others want us to change it’s because they put their interests ahead of our own.

We can’t coerce others into changing either, the result of which will be ineffective at best. Also, you can’t rely on motivation and willpower, nor can your rely on education; simply knowing about something doesn’t always translate to adopting that behavior.

Another reason why making lasting behavior changes can be hard:

Making lasting behavioral change can be hard for many reasons. In order to become the person we want to be, we need to give up the person that we are. That is anything but easy. Not the least of which is because we are used to doing things a certain way, and asking ourselves to do something different will likely cause resistance at some level.

Furthermore, trying to change behaviors without changing our beliefs won’t work. This is because our old (current) behaviors are inextricably linked to our beliefs.

Changing behaviors involves starting things or stopping them. Stopping something cold turkey (such as smoking (by having an epiphany)) is one way of doing it. But, most people can’t change behaviors overnight. We all need help. Here are some ways of making long-term behavioral change:

According to BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford, we need three things in order to change — we need to be motivated (to do the new behavior), we need to have the ability to do it, and we need a trigger (or a call to action).

We do this by making the new behaviors small enough to do. He advocates the format: After you do X (current behavior), you do Y (new behavior). Here are a couple of examples. After I walk in the door, I put my things in the drawer. After I get dressed, I sit down for a minute (to meditate, let’s say). He suggests that we celebrate after we successfully do the new behaviors. Find a way to celebrate that works for you. The idea is that over time we are able to build on these “tiny habits” and gain momentum in the process. We need to design for behaviors that lead to outcomes.

Another way to make long-term change is to change our beliefs about things. You see, our behavior is largely a function of our decisions (not our conditions), which flows from our attitudes that stem from our beliefs. In other words, healthy beliefs create positive attitudes that manifest in effective behaviors.

Examine your belief system before engaging in arbitrary behavioral change. The idea being that if we believe a certain thing, we are inclined to behave accordingly. For instance, if you believe that things will never change where you live (for whatever reason), your attitude will be one of acceptance and/or submission, and your behavior will be to ignore it, stop caring about it, accept it, and to move on. Similarly, if you believe that things can change and you can make a difference, your attitude will be one of proaction, and your behavior will be to focus on your actions to improve the situation at hand (and taking responsibility for the consequences).

Think about how you see the world. One thing that can help you in improving your attitude towards life is to be proactive, which means that your life is your responsibility. You may not always be in control of your situations, but how you respond to them is definitely your responsibility.

Yet another thing we can do to change is create a shift in identity to reach our goals faster. This involves giving up the person we are now to become the person we want to be. When we do this right, the shift happens first in the mind (which is hard), and not long after that, we start practicing the new behaviors. After that, it’s only a matter of time before we become that person.

We see in our self-interest to change when we see something work for us. We don’t believe what we read or hear, but we do believe what we see. When you see someone do something, you say that you aspire to do it that way. Then, you change and begin to emulate that.

One way to get others to change is to inspire them. All we can do is work on ourselves and hope that somehow others will follow us and learn from our actions (more than our words). Because we are always influencing and teaching others through our actions, we must be responsible.

Change your physical/social environment. Design your physical environment to make it work for you (not against you). Change your social environment. Be wary of who you spend most of your time with. Choose to spend time with those who already embody the behaviors that you seek. Stop spending time with people who drain you.

When we are not able to change our behaviors by ourselves, we need to seek help outside. One way we do that is by hiring experts. Another way we can do that is by getting regular feedback from those with which we interact (and trust).

We don’t always have to seek help outside. You can also get your own people to help you. For instance, every time you make a destructive comment or remark at work, you can have your colleague fine you a small amount of money. Then, it’ll only be a matter of time before you stop making those negative comments.

The truth is that making change of any kind is hard. We can use some of these strategies to work on ourselves, or we can get help from outside. Either way, it has to appeal to our rational self-interest. That is the only way we’ll make lasting behavioral change in our lives.

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