How to Change Your Behavior in 3 Easy Steps: First Prepare to Change

How to Change Your Behavior in 3 Easy Steps: First Prepare to Change Image

What’s the biggest mistake people make when they want to change their behavior?  Jumping too quickly to the behavior change.  That’s right, today I am giving you permission to keep overeating, keep biting your nails, keep yelling at your kids, keep doing whatever it is you want to stop doing.


New Year’s resolutions fail because we jump right to the behavior change without laying the groundwork for our behavior change to succeed.  So today I am going to share with you a few things you can do this week to lay a strong foundation for whatever change you want to make.


Preparing to Change

Why is it important to prepare to change?  It’s just like painting the living room walls:  if you just slap a new coat of paint on the walls it will look good temporarily.  But to really make a long-lasting change to the room you need to spend time wiping down the walls and baseboards for dust, repairing the holes and cracks, laying drop cloths, and taping off areas that won’t be painted.  When you spend that time preparing, your paint job will look a lot better!


The Crucial First Step in Preparing to Change

Are you sure you have control over the behavior you are trying to change?  If you are trying to talk nicely to your kids rather than yell, then you do have control over the behavior.  If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, you have control over the behavior.  If you want to stop biting your nails, you have control over the behavior.  But if you are trying to get your kids to stop misbehaving, or you want your whole family to lose weight, or you want your husband to stop biting his nails, you do not have control over those things.


Find Your Motivation

Behavior change is hard, so you have to be really motivated to change in order for it to stick.  Maybe you know from the way you feel or the way your last set of lab tests turned out that you are not healthy.  The thought of living a healthier life where you have the energy and stamina to play with your kids or grandkids could be your motivation to eat healthier.  Or maybe your child cowered in fear the last time you raised your voice, and the idea of a warmer more trusting relationship is your motivation to yell less often.


Make a Realistic Plan

Once you have your motivation, you need to set a realistic plan.  What exactly will you change and when will you do it?  The research shows that we increase our chance of succeeding if we focus on only one big (or small!) change at a time.  So ask yourself, what change do I most want to make?  Or what change do I think I can most easily do?  Is there something I could do today?  For the person trying to get healthier, a realistic plan might be to add a healthy behavior every day for a week: talk to your doctor about what things will make a difference given your health history, increase water intake, start buying organic fruits and veggies, increase fruit intake, increase vegetables, get to bed an hour earlier, walk ten minutes a day, or start a yoga or meditation practice.


Can I Really Do This?

The self-efficacy research tells us that when we wonder, “Can I do this?”, we need to remember the other times we succeeded at something hard.  What worked for you then?  What were the obstacles you overcame?  Having a growth mindset means telling yourself “I can do this!”  Some people succeed best when they spend a lot of time researching and reading about how others have done a similar task, and then they like to jump in.  Others do better with a more gradual approach, perhaps making one small change a week for four weeks.


More Tips for Success

After making sure you have control over the behavior, finding your motivation, setting a realistic plan, and finding a growth mindset, there are a few more things you can do to set a good foundation for changing your behavior.

  • Use positive language about your behavior change (I’m adding healthy fruits and veggies to my diet vs. I’m giving up donuts)
  • Make a public commitment to change (tell someone your plan, or join a support group of others making a similar change)
  • Get the instruction you might need to change (positive parenting isn’t easy, especially if it wasn’t the way you were parented)
  • Remove temptation (throw away the cigarettes)
  • Change your environment and support network (find a friend who will walk with you every day)
  • Engage in relapse prevention (what’s the thing that might make you stumble and what can you do to prevent that from happening?)


Knowing we want to change is the easy part.  Actually making the changes are hard.  Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you’d like to set up a few coaching sessions to help you prepare to change.  And check back soon for the second step of behavior change: Practicing the Change.