Planning for behaviour change

We all have behaviours that we would like to change. Maybe it's an addictive behaviour, like drinking, smoking or drugging. Or maybe it's something more subtle, like spending too much time on social media, or not eating enough greens.

Recognising the need to change is an important first step in the change process. However, planning ahead and taking a few extra steps can go a long way in helping us to make – and maintain – change.

When we first reach the conclusion that we need to make change, we often focus on why the behaviour is problematic. For example, a smoker contemplating change may have thoughts such as "Smoking is costing me too much money", "I can no longer get up a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing" or "I don't want to end up with lung cancer".

These thoughts can be powerful catalysts for initiating change. However, sustaining change can take a bit more work. As humans, we perform behaviours to fulfil specific needs or functions. People spend countless hours perusing social media for a reason. Perhaps that reason is to alleviate boredom, or anxieties around "missing out" on something by not checking it frequently.

If we only focus on our reasons for wanting to change, ignoring why we perform the behaviour in the first place, we are more likely to come across obstacles that may thwart our progress towards change. Conversely, if we adopt a holistic view, acknowledging the benefits and costs of change, we are in a better position to anticipate potential obstacles and barriers, and to problem solve them.

Next time you are contemplating behaviour change, I encourage you to consider not only the reason for changing, but also the reasons why you engage in the behaviour in the first place. It can be helpful to consider:

The benefits of continuing the behaviour

The costs of continuing the behaviour

The benefits of changing/stopping the behaviour

The costs of changing/stopping the behaviour

To illustrate, let's use the example of a cigarette smoker who is contemplating quitting (bottom of the article)

Amplifying the advantages

In this example, some of the positives of stopping the behaviour included improved health and fitness, saving money, and reduced conflict with family members. Here are some suggestions of how to amplify these advantages, which can provide added motivation to stop smoking:

  • Calculate how much money you would typically spend on cigarettes. Once you stop smoking, put the money you have saved into a money tin so you can physically see the savings growing!
  • Desired behaviours are more likely to be repeated if they are rewarded. Set rewards for yourself for each milestone of not smoking that you reach (one day, 1 week, 2 weeks etc.)
  • Is there a favourite sport you used to play? Now could be the perfect time to get involved in a sport you love. Not only is it a great way to get fit, it's also a great way to meet new people!

Problem solving potential pitfalls

This involves focusing on the reasons why you perform the behaviour in the first place and why it may be challenging to stop, and problem solving to maximise your chances of success. Here are a few problem-solving strategies for the example above:

  • Book an appointment with your GP to discuss nicotine replacement therapy options, such as patches, lozenges and gum.
  • Let your friends, family and colleagues know that you intend to quit smoking and ask them for their support during this process.
  • If smoking is providing stress relief from work, there are a few different options: you could replace the smoking with another activity that relieves stress (eg. going for a brisk walk, using a stress ball) or perhaps you could focus on maintaining a better work-life balance to reduce work-related stress overall.

Here at LETSS, we understand that changing behaviours can be difficult, and that a little extra support can go a long way. Please contact LETSS on 1800 013 755 or via web chat to discuss your behaviour change goals and develop an action plan to put it into practice! ​

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