Changing Behavior – 3 Steps
We all have wanted to add a new habit, break an old habit, get into shape, learn a new language, get organized, etc. The list could go on forever of the things we would like to learn or do that would benefit our lives. The real problem is “How do I change myself to start or stop doing that habit, action, attitude, etc.?”
There are basically 3 steps to changing behavior.
1) Replace the old with a new – no matter if it is a behavior or attitude, our minds can’t stop doing something. If we try to envision ourselves not doing something, we actually picture us doing the bad habit then tell ourselves “Don’t do that.” That type of “training” for your mind does not work. To successfully quit doing something or start a new habit, you must first clearly picture in your mind what that new action or attitude looks like. What are the behaviors and outcomes of this new attitude, habit, action, etc.? Focus on those, not stopping what you are currently doing. The idea is that it is difficult to walk a straight line or reach a destination if you are looking and walking backwards.
Here’s a few tips on how to “walk forward.”
A) Find a picture of the desired outcome and place that picture where you can see it every day. I wanted to reduce my waist size by 1 inch, so I put the waist size on my bathroom mirror. It reminded every day to do my stomach exercises. Many times, I ended up doing the exercises before I went to bed because I saw the reminder while brushing my teeth. (They only took 2 minutes to do.)
B) Tell yourself, saying it out loud (your mind needs to hear it) that you are accomplishing a new goal. This is an affirmation: positive, present tense statement that tells yourself that you have already accomplished the goal. For me it was “I do my crunches every day. I have a 34 inch waist.”
c) Have a way to measure your success. For me, I had a pair of pants that I wanted to wear again and I used a tape measure. For our kids, we used a thermometer chart showing mileage to get them in shape for a trip to Disney World (We did not want any tired, whining kids.) They filled in a bar for every mile they walked. They had to walk 20 miles in 6 weeks in order to go on the trip. A picture of a clean desk may be your measurement. A house with no conflict for a week may be the measurement. (Put a smiley face on the refrigerator for every pleasant day.)
2) Use spaced repetition – behavioral research reports that it takes a minimum of 66 days to form a new habit or attitude. And it takes at least hearing a new idea 6 times within a very short time frame before we will accept a new idea as our own. There is a Latin saying that says “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
If you are working to change, learn a new language, etc., you need to incorporate into your planned regular activities, daily or hourly to truly learn the new way. Doing it haphazardly without a specific, repetitive plan will generally lead to failure. This is especially true with affirmations. If you are not reading them at least once a day, out loud, then you will not successfully believe, nor adapt the goal of the affirmation. Our minds must override or be reprogrammed with the new attitude or belief before it can become permanent. Using affirmations requires a little discipline, so read them while you are drinking your coffee; put them on your dashboard or mirror or put them on your screen saver.
If you are learning a new skill, practice, practice, practice. That is spaced repetition. Once you have learned the skill or new attitude, keep practicing but you can reduce the repetition time frame.
(Make the action steps “doable”, not a new habit unto themselves. The long-term goal may have to broken down into very small, realistic and “doable” steps.)
3) Personal ownership or personal benefit – if the new attitude, goal, skill is not truly your desire, but someone else’s for you, you will have great difficulty in truly achieving it. You may for short time, but not long term. If you know it is good for you, but you are not motivated to work on it, be creative and find a result from the new habit or skill that you will enjoy or have personal benefit. Be creative; expand your horizon in the way you approach the project. Make it your own. As Michael Hyatt explains goal or behavior change must be energizing for you.
“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
What is true repentance? It is not being sorry for something. Being sorry is self-focused in that you are sorry for the outcome, not what you did. Regrets are the same being focused on yourself.
True repentance is others focused. True repentance is sadness for what you did to the other person. Your attitude is focused on the other person and how they were offended, hurt, etc. Repentance may be just between you and God or it may include how you offended another person.
True repentance leads to an attitude change. It leads to you seeking to change your attitude and behavior. It is seeking forgiveness and making restitution where possible.
(Parents, just having your children say “I’m sorry” does not lead them to repentance. Teach them to ask for forgiveness from the person they have offended. Be sure to have them include what they did in seeking repentance. “I am asking forgiveness for calling you a bad name for it was mean and hurt you.” Also, have them make restitution, where possible. We have our children serve the other by doing their sister’s chores to make restitution.)
The good news is that God gives rest in repentance. When we repent of our sins against Him, he gives us rest. To truly change, we must not rely on our own strength but have faith in Him to change us. For doing it “our way” got us to the point of needing to repent in the first place.
Seek God in repentance and in faith. You can’t have one without the other.
Doing this with spaced repetition leads to a changed life. It is not a one-time event.