Have you ever tried New Year’s resolutions? Then, you know how difficult it is to deal with changing behavior. With a motivation through the roof, you begin January anticipating how different your life will be.
Nevertheless, you’ve returned to where you were before Thanksgiving, by mid-February; this means, bad habits have once again become routine.
How comes changing behavior is so difficult? Could we ever made it to successfully change one’s behavior?
Let’s look at behavior change theory to see what makes behavior change so difficult. We also provide behavior change examples and a step-by-step process for teaching you how to change your behavior.
It is strange how difficult it is to change one’s behavior
The majority of our behavior is automatic. When repeated over time, behaviors become automatic.
Driving is a good example of this. It takes conscious effort to learn and remember all the right steps when learning to drive — mirror, signal, maneuver, anyone?
But, over time, those actions become habits. This happens when you’ve practiced them so much that they’ve become second nature.
Because our brains get stuck in fixed patterns, successful behavioral change is difficult.
However, the same mechanism that corrects our problem behavior as mental habits is frequently the solution to changing it.
The role of neuroplasticity in behavior modification
The process by which our brains change as we learn is known as neuroplasticity. It refers to the brain’s physical structures. Every time you learn something new, a new connection forms in your brain.
It’s shaky at first, but with practice, the connection grows stronger. This establishes the new, healthier behavior as a habit.
The three stages of neuroplastic change are as follows:
- Chemical changes are changes in brain chemistry that occur in response to new behavior. They improve short-term motor skills and short-term memory;
- New connections form, altering the structure of the brain. This improves long-term memory and motor skills over time;
- Functional change occurs when entire brain networks change and become more efficient in their operation. This is the point at which long-term behavioral change occurs.
In order to break an old habit, it is necessary to weaken a strong neural connection. Simultaneously, you fortify the new one.
This is difficult because setbacks can easily revert us to our old mental patterns and behaviors.
Behavior Modification Elements
You must first understand the elements of change before you can begin your planned stages of change. These are the factors that will either help or hinder you from changing your behavior.
Different models are proposed by behavioral science change theory. Each contains distinct elements of change.
However, for the sake of simplicity, we can divide them into four major categories.
- Your openness to change
How committed are you to changing your current behavior? Are you making changes for yourself or for someone else? Self-motivation is essential for sustaining your new behavior.
- The Advantages of Change
Being aware of the advantages of your desired behavior will help you stay motivated. It will also boost your resilience and ability to bounce back from setbacks.
- Your resistance to change
Are you unable to change because of your current circumstances? Identify and list any potential barriers to behavior change.
- The possibility of relapse
If you want to make long-term change, you will encounter challenges and setbacks along the way. Being aware of potential challenges will assist you in preparing for and overcoming them.
The six stages of behavior modification
There are six stages of behavior change, according to the transtheoretical model of change.
- The stage of precontemplation
People aren’t aware of the negative behavior they need to change at this point. They do not consider their behavior to be a problem and are unwilling to seek help. If they are put under pressure to change, they may become defensive. They also avoid talking about it, reading about it, or thinking about it. They may also learn about the problem from family, friends, or the media, but they will not act until they recognize it as a problem.
- Stage of contemplation
People are aware of the negative consequences or problems at this point. They are, however, not yet ready to change their unhealthy behavior.
They do, however, begin to consider it. They understand that change is required, but they are not prepared.
They may weigh the advantages and disadvantages, as well as whether the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term effort.
Depending on the individual, this stage can last a few days or a lifetime.
- The stage of preparation or determination
This is the stage at which a person is prepared to make a change. They become dedicated to change and motivated to take the necessary actions.
They research the issue by reading, talking, and gathering information.
The stage of preparation is critical to the success of behavior change. Skipping this stage can significantly reduce your chances of success.
- The stage of action
People use the strategies they learned in the previous phase to begin a new, healthy behavior at this stage.
Willpower is required, and there is a high risk of failure and relapse into old behavior and habits. It can assist in avoiding external temptation and establishing rewards for achieving intermediate goals. At this point, the assistance of others is also required.
Stage 5: Maintenance
People have made progress and realized the benefits of changing at this point.
They recognize that maintaining change will require effort, but they recognize its importance. They devise strategies to avoid relapse until the new habit becomes second nature.
Stage 6: Relapse
This is the stage at which people revert to their old habits and behaviors. Reversion can be a natural component of the healing process.
The key is to identify the cause of the failure and look for new and better ways to deal with it. It is important to keep the benefits of the change in mind. This can help you regain motivation once you restart the stages of change model.
How to Modify Behavior
Now that you’ve learned about the elements of change and the six stages of behavioral change, it’s time to put them into practice.
Let’s look at the most common areas of behavior change and some interventions for each of them.
- Diet and nutrition
If you’ve ever tried to make a drastic change in your diet and eating habits, you know how challenging it can be.
Instead of making drastic, unsustainable changes, try making small changes one at a time.
According to research, this approach makes it easier to maintain long-term changes.
For example, if you consume a lot of soda, try limiting your intake to one per day for a while. You’ll eventually find it easier to break your one-soda-a-day habit.
- Physical exercise
If you pay for a gym membership but never go, you need to be strategic about your approach to physical activity.
With a few simple changes, you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
Leave your car a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way.
Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Purchase a standing desk.
However, exercise is important, and these changes, while beneficial, may not be sufficient.
Find something you enjoy doing to keep you motivated to exercise (yes, you have permission to cancel your gym membership).
It’s important to have fun while exercising, whether it’s a brisk walk in the woods, a round of golf, a choreographed dance routine, or even a game of Twister.
Tracking your goals and progress, as well as keeping a log of your activities, can also help you stay motivated.
- Noncompliance with medication
According to studies, 50% of chronic disease medications are not taken as prescribed.
If you are having difficulty taking your prescribed medication, take the following steps:
– Alarm setting will remind you to take it;
– Use a pillbox labeled with the days of the week to keep track of when you’ve taken your medication and when you haven’t;
– Make a mental note or use a medication reminder app.
However, if you are having difficulty taking any prescribed medication, it is always best to consult with your doctor first.
Clinicians treat insomnia patients with a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Brief behavioral therapy for insomnia is the name of the intervention.
You can try this four-step process to improve your sleep patterns and reduce insomnia.
- For a couple of weeks, keep a sleeping diary;
- Keep track of when you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up and for how long, what time you wake up, and even when you get out of bed;
- Establish a wake-up time;
- Decide what time you want to get up each morning and set your alarm for that time;
- Whatever kind of night you had, get out of bed when your alarm goes off;
- Stay as less as possible in bed;
- Calculate the average number of hours you sleep per night after tracking your sleep for two weeks;
- Add 20 minutes to that figure to get your total time in bed;
Determine your ideal bedtime.
To determine your target bedtime, subtract your total time in bed from your wake-up time. As long as you are sleepy, try to go to bed at this time (rather than earlier). As your sleep cycle begins to regulate itself, increase your total time in bed by 10 to 20 minutes per week.
Changing one’s behavior might be difficult, but it is possible anyway to achieve long-term behavioral change. Just don’t forget to be gentle with yourself as you go through all this.