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Behavior Change in Three Steps

It’s never too early to start planning for those notoriously short-lived resolutions we habitually commit ourselves to at the beginning of each and every New Year. In fact, planning early for any kind of change is a good way of tipping the scales in favor making the change a permanent fixture in your life. It becomes a lifestyle change.

Lifestyle changes are not easy to make but they are possible with the right tools and a few words of advice. The first piece of advice is, “It takes time to make a habit. It takes time to break a habit.” The message is, be patient with yourself. The second piece of advice is to keep a pencil and paper handy. You’ll be doing a lot of writing. As for the tools, no plan is complete without a strategy for going about making the lifestyle change. Most change plans list anywhere from 3 to 21 steps in the change process. Three is a simple number to work with and these three steps are consistently listed in every change plan: Awareness, Skills & Motivation.

The above three steps are roughly arranged in a time chronology but there is overlap. For example, Motivation actually precedes Awareness, at least briefly. Motivation is what starts the whole process moving. You’re motivated the minute you start thinking about making a change. When you’re thinking about making a change you’re ready for the next step which is Awareness.

Awareness is absolutely crucial when starting a new habit. Your goal here is to take note of your behaviors as they relate to the behavior you want to change. You’ll want to know about the frequency of your target behavior and if there are any triggers that affect the behavior. Triggers are those things that contribute to the behavior in question. For example, does emotional upset pull you toward that candy bar or extra helping of ice cream? You’ll also want to know when you engage in the target behavior. In short, you’ll want to know all you can about the target behavior you plan to work on. By doing so, you’ll also be helping to keep your new target behavior at the forefront of your consciousness so that you’ll always have your goal in mind. You’ll be continually aware of your target behavior.

Once you’ve become aware of the behaviors you want to work on, you’re ready for Skills, the second step in the change process. Here’s where you’ll take what you learned about your targeted behavior and any related contributing behaviors and turn them into a goal. You’ll want to be very specific about what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll also want to make sure that what you’re working toward is not going to be so difficult that you won’t be able to accomplish it. You may have to break down a Herculean goal into smaller, more readily attainable goals to ensure your success. Here you’ll set up a time line for completing your goal and how you’ll define success. Most importantly, it’s here that you’ll make a commitment for beginning the behavior change you want to make for yourself.

The third step is all about motivation. If you’ve gone through the first two steps then you’re already motivated. This third step is about staying motivated. The loss of motivation is probably the most common reason for not being successful in changing behaviors. The most frequently used method for staying motivated is to use rewards for each time you accomplish your goal or for successful steps you make toward your goal. Using rewards is a fine way to help you stay motivated but there is another factor that you should be aware of and that is something called Emotional Resistance. This type of resistance comes from our mind which stores all of our memories and experiences. When we attempt to change a behavior or start a new behavior, our mind can make it rough going. Think back to a time when you were trying to change a habit. Did you find yourself wondering if it was truly worth it? Did you become bored with what you were doing? Did you simply give up with the thought that you’d never make it anyway? These are some of the thoughts that emotional resistance can conjure up. There are a whole lot more. The best thing you can do is to understand what emotional resistance is and then develop a strategy for overcoming it when it does appear. You’ll stay that much more motivated if you do.

Changing your behavior does take some work but you can obtain the goals you set for yourself if you follow a plan, understand the obstacles that will inevitably arise and most importantly be patient with yourself as you reach for success.



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