Fulfilling potential and becoming the best version of yourself is all about the ability to change the way you behave. By recognising that not all behavioural change works in the same way, you can be more targeted in your approach. To begin with, you need to understand the difference between some high level types of behavioural change:
Creating behaviours – involve initiating a new way of behaving over a period of time.
Preventing behaviours – depend on interrupting or rerouting an existing routine and the thought patterns that go with it.
Low effort changes – may require a little push but generally require a small amount of effort to be successful.
High effort changes – take a great deal of conscious effort in order to be successful; they require the individual to utilise will power over a period of time.
The intersection of these types of change provide a powerful matrix for understanding behavioural change:
This matrix provides us with some clearly defined behavioural change types and approaches, which you can explore in greater detail below.
Novice activities are new behaviours that take relatively little effort to succeed at. The tasks themselves are not strenuous, require little to no-expertise and don’t tend to be too time consuming. However, if they are not already part of your routine then getting started can be difficult. There are some essential keys to creating novice behaviours:
Start small – changing your entire diet or running for an hour a day may seem daunting, time consuming or like a culture shock. Creating a ‘new road’ in your brain can be done bit at a time; with a narrow or short path that gets bigger once it feels integrated.
Find pleasure or reward in it – often these goals don’t get met when they seem arbitrary, boring or unpleasant. Find a way to make it enjoyable so that it doesn’t seem like a chore and so takes less effort to initiate. If it is something less ‘fun’ then find a way to reward yourself occasionally that doesn’t go against the goal.
Create routines – we are more likely to stick at those small things when they become part of our automatic routine. Doing things at the same time each day or week can help establish a routine or even attaching a new behaviour to an existing routine can be helpful. The more you can integrate your new behaviours into your day the longer lasting they will be.
Monitor your progress – this may be a simple as a daily list, ticking the calendar each time you perform your behaviour, measuring the outcome of your behaviour. Monitoring can help some people to stay motivated, especially if they enjoy ticking things off.
Find your minimum – there will be days when you just don’t feel like doing your new behaviour at all. But breaking your routine can make it harder to get back to later. At the beginning, decide what is the least you want to do each day to keep some form of routine going.
The biggest success factor in novice behaviours is maintaining a routine. What used to take effort or thought at the beginning will seem automatic and integrated the longer you stick at it.
Expert activities are new behaviours that take a great deal of effort to be achieved over time. They often involve learning something new, based on previous skills and learning. Over time, as we practice and refine one aspect of the skill, we increase our readiness for the next stage and the ability to learn more complex material.
Because of the effort involved these behaviours require much more persistence, effort and deliberate learning. Some of the strategies used for novice behaviours can be helpful for expert behaviours with additional techniques on top:
Focused practice – unlike novice behaviours, simply putting the time in doesn’t always work. Practice needs to include developing techniques, gaining new knowledge or cementing existing good practice.
Teaching input – gaining expertise in something is very difficult to do without instruction in some form. Finding a tutor, teacher, instructional video or book will be a helpful resource to support you as you identify the things you ‘don’t know you don’t know’.
Sub-goals – an expert behaviour is usually very complex and made up of layers of skill. Sometimes breaking it down into chunks can be very motivating and prevent you from over stretching yourself early on.
Deadlines – some people find that they work better to deadlines or checkpoints. Use fixed points, perhaps with others checking on you or a sense of necessity to give you focus and motivation.
Persistence – expert behaviours take much longer to bear fruit because of how complex they are. Persistence will be needed to ensure that you put the time in, overcome setbacks and keep the end goal in mind to motivate you.
Self reflection – in order to succeed in an area of expertise you will have to evaluate your progress, learn from your successes and mistakes, adapt strategies and alter your practices. Learning anything is a complex journey and building time into your routine to think about your learning will help you to be more effective when you do practice.
Creating any expert behaviour comes with challenges because of how lengthy the process is; the key to success is persistence and staying motivated to reach the end.
Habits are existing behaviours that do not take a great deal of effort to override. But these behaviours may be comforting, automatic and difficult to interrupt. Resisting the same thing over and over can seem like more of a chore and that is often why we are unsuccessful. There are some key ways to be successful at creating a habit breaking behaviour:
Distractions – if you notice yourself feeling tempted by your habit then occupying yourself with something different may be helpful. A change of room, activity or company may take your mind away from the habit.
Replacement behaviours – some habits are hard to get rid of altogether without an alternative. Find a replacement behaviour that still satisfies the basic need.
Planned obstacles – with low effort behaviours, it doesn’t take a lot to deter us from them. If you deliberately make it difficult for yourself to carry out the behaviour then you may not bother. See if there are ways you can add barriers to your existing habit behaviours to make them less attractive.
Moderation – cutting out some habits altogether can be difficult. Especially if they are ingrained in our routines. Reducing the habit before getting rid of it altogether can be helpful.
Delayed gratification – there are some psychologists who believe that will power is like a muscle. The more we use it the stronger it gets. Putting in a time gap between feeling the urge and doing the habit behaviour can exercise your will power muscle and maybe even prove that you can resist the behaviour altogether.
Ride the urge – similar to delayed gratification, sometimes you just have to wait it out. Whilst an urge to behave in a particular way might be strong at first if you wait long enough the urge may pass.
Goal reminders – there is a reason you have decided to stop this behaviour. If you take a moment to remind yourself what that reason is, what your goals are and how far you have come then sometimes it gives you a little motivational boost to ignore the urge.
Create identity rules – when people think to themselves “I can’t… have another snack.” What they really mean is “I shouldn’t”. Psychologically, this gives them wiggle room to bend their guidelines. Replacing it with “I don’t” is far more permanent and empowering. Saying you don’t do something gives it more authority and you more power to resist.
The key to successfully breaking habits is to reroute those neuronal pathways. Whether it’s by introducing a new behaviour or triggering a new thought pattern each time the urge is there. Whilst hard to break at first, persistently resisting will help you reduce the urges over time until it stops becoming so automatic.
Addictions are the hardest of the four behaviour types to tackle; many addictions have an underlying cause and that these can play a complex role in tackling the behaviour effectively. Anyone with a serious addiction should seek professional help in addition to their own efforts.
All addictions start off as habits. They are behaviours that are engaged in regularly enough to feel comforting at some level. With an addiction, the body soon becomes reliant on the chemical reaction caused by this repeated behaviour and begins to crave it.
Not all addictions are drug or chemical related. The body produces its own chemicals in response to situations and people can become addicted to these too. Over time the body develops tolerance to chemicals which means the individual needs more to feel the same effects.
Withdrawal symptoms are often experienced by individuals creating addiction breaking behaviours. This is another reason why health professionals need to be involved in tackling addictions. Some of the keys to successfully forming addiction breaking behaviours are:
Reduction – some addictions may be dangerous to stop straight away. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms can be highly distressing to the mind and body which is why some addictions are phased out slowly.
Replacement – As part of the reduction process doctors may prescribe an alternative safer drug. Or people may swap one behaviour for something similar but not harmful. This can, however, result in a dependence on the new behaviour or substance.
Detox – completely abstaining from the behaviour or substance is the best long term solution but it is by no means easy. After withdrawal symptoms have subsided, the body will eventually begin to return to its normal chemical levels and tolerance will be reduced.
Finding root causes – in some cases addictive behaviours will have an underlying cause or trigger. Working this out with a trained professional can help the person start to resist urges – and perhaps even deal with the underlying cause itself.
Removing triggers – certain triggers that are identified can be removed altogether.
Social support – successfully breaking an addiction is rarely done alone, especially if it is one with strong withdrawal symptoms. Having a network of people to remind you what your goals are, how far you have come, how much they care and that they are there to help can make a big difference in resisting temptation.
Getting rid of an old behaviour is often harder than creating a new one. It takes time to undo urges and replace them with something healthy.
When focusing on forming any type of goal, as a self leader, it’s important to consider where in the matrix your goal would best fit into in order to approach it in the most effective way. Being able to identify the types of change you want to make will allow you to plan your strategies very carefully and, ultimately, have more chance at succeeding.
If you want to fulfil your potential as a self leader through positive behavioural change, The Self Leadership Initiative provides bespoke training and workshops to Charities, Universities and Corporates to make that happen. Get in touch today to get started.