How Do You Make Behavioral Changes Last?

skyeteam leadership development

What’s the most significant behavioral change you’ve made as an adult? For some, it’s quitting smoking or drinking, or making healthy changes in eating and exercising. For others, it’s becoming a better listener, a more effective manager, or a more attentive partner or spouse.

No matter what changes you’ve made, whether physical, social, or work-related, almost everyone agrees that lasting change is hard. It requires determination, motivation, vigilance, persistence, and long-term commitment.

Most people would agree that asking for help from a trusted friend, mentor, or professional coach helps. Many of our coaching clients come to us highly motivated to make changes.

Yet even with high motivation, support, and ideal conditions, it’s still hard to break bad habits. I know from personal experience, I am still an aspiring athlete rather than a perspiring athlete! I had the opportunity to work with a personal coach for a while, it was great, she held me accountable for completing my workout and pushing myself. I was in good shape and decided I was ready to ‘go it alone’. It was like I had flicked a switch and unfortunately not for the better, when I stopped working with my personal coach, I stopped working out.

It’s said that it takes six attempts for most smokers who say they’d like to quit to try and succeed. It looks like I may have the same stop-start-stop challenge when it comes to exercise (just in case you are concerned about my couch-potato tendencies I have been working out twice a week for the last 6 weeks…)

If change is hard, and long lasting behavioral change is harder what can you do? Take six seconds to prepare yourself and set up change.

Six Seconds to Set Up Change

Here’s a quick tip to break a habit and start effecting long term change – take a long, deep breath, count to six, and then exhale slowly. This allows you to step back from reactive habits and initiate a new, healthier response to any situation.

A six second breath is a way to pause, gain awareness, gather energy, and choose how you will proceed. And that’s the secret, you need to respond through choice not react through habit.

Knowing Isn’t Doing

The guidelines for changing habits are pretty simple:

  • If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn up, and do it over a length of time until you reach your goal weight.
  • If you want to quit smoking, pick a quit date, get rid of cigarettes and smoking triggers, and don’t smoke no matter what, until the urges stop and the chemicals are out of your system.
  • If you want to improve your public speaking skills then video yourself, get feedback from others, practice and volunteer for speaking opportunities.
  • To get fit, go to a gym or learn a sport, practice every day, get some coaching or training, and track your progress over a length of time. (Maybe I’ll see you there!)

None of these programs are complicated. But simplicity doesn’t necessarily beget easy. All humans resist change; we’re susceptible to fallibility when making plans and sticking to them.

If we understand human nature enough, we should be able to anticipate resistance and circumvent unhealthy reactions that sabotage our efforts. But that doesn’t always happen. What about you? Have you successfully made behavioral changes and stuck with them?