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Four Types of Behavioural Change

· How To Guides,Change,Goals

Fulfilling potential and becoming the best version of yourself is all about the ability to change the way you behave. But not all changes are the same, and so the range of strategies used should differ. Stopping gambling is very different to learning the piano. Taking a vitamin tablet each day is different to resisting a chocolate bar at lunch time. That’s why it is very useful to understand the TYPE of change we want to make before we even start implementing strategies to succeed.

By recognising that not all changes are the same we can be more targeted in our approach to them. Creating a morning routine will not simply be enough to stop an alcoholic having cravings, but it may help someone who wants to meditate more. Categorising your changes using the following criteria can be a big step to understanding how to tackle them:

Creating or Preventing Behaviour?

Deciding to eat an apple a day would be considered ‘creating behaviour’. This involves initiating a new way of behaving over a period of time. The human brain is made up of a complex series of neuronal pathways, interconnected to control our behaviours and influence our thought processes. Imagine a bird’s eye view of a city – with hundreds of roads connecting all the different streets and buildings. Eating the apple each day is like building a new road to a housing estate. It takes time to develop, for the tarmac to settle and for road users to get used to using it. But by pointing people towards it over and over, eventually it becomes a habit and people start to use it automatically.

However, deciding not to have a coffee straight after breakfast can be a different situation altogether – especially if it is an established routine. Preventing behaviours is like closing off a well known road in a city. Traffic users get frustrated, may try to go down it anyway and without an alternative route to their destination (morning energy) then they can feel lost. Preventing behaviours is all about interrupting or rerouting an existing routine and the thought patterns that go with it.

High or Low Effort?

Some behaviours are relatively easy to undergo. Texting a friend once a week, resisting snacks and going for a 10 minute walks are not large feats in themselves. They may require a little push but in the grand scheme of things they require a small amount of effort to be successful.

Then consider learning a new language, stopping smoking, learning to drive a car. Each of these could not be achieved with good-will alone. They take a great deal of conscious effort in order to be successful and so can be considered high effort behaviours. They require the individual to utilise will power over a period of time.

Four Categories

The criteria above can be used to create a helpful matrix for sorting out behaviours:

Changing behaviours, New Years Resolutions, Novice, Expert, Habits, Addictions

Novice behaviours - creating relatively easy new routines and habits such as healthy food choices, taking vitamins, writing a short journal entry and going for a walk.

Expert behaviours – these can be considered learnings. Taking the time and effort to acquire a new skill, learn knowledge or alter the body significantly. Such as learning to play an instrument, operate a vehicle, understand a course subject, train for a marathon.

Breaking habits – stopping yourself from routine, undesirable behaviours. They are often not too hard to stop but we may do them automatically or unknowingly in trigger moments such as biting nails, binge watching programmes, eating unhealthy foods or stop using curse words.  

Breaking addictions – these take a high degree of effort and will power due to the physiological reliance on the behaviour. Many will say they are addicted to chocolate yet they probably don’t suffer the same physical withdrawal symptoms as a smoker, gambler, drinker or other type of addict.

Planning Goals Smartly

So as you start to generate your new year’s resolutions - or any type of goal - consider what category it best fits into. It is also possible that an over arching goal may include sub behaviours. For example being healthier may include learning to use a complex piece of gym equipment (expert) as well as cutting back on fried food (breaking habits).

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.

Image Credit: Martin Deutsch, 2010, Change

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