A lot of us know the actions we need to take to live a better life or to break a bad habit. However, there seems to be a disconnect between being able to recognize what needs to be done and actually doing what needs to be done.
For instance, do you know smoking is bad, yet you don’t quit?
Maybe your doctor prescribed told you to lose a few pounds and you know you need to improve your diet an exercise… but you don’t.
So how do we fix that?
Most people have attempted to start a good behavior or quit a bad one and it just didn’t stick! That leaves them down the conventional road of blaming themselves, where they often say, “This is just how I am” or “I can never change.”
Actually, there are appropriate tools to improve your behavior, but they require a little understanding to know how they work and when to use them.
That’s why we brought in behavior change expert Dr. Sean Young to help us understand just why it’s so hard to follow through on our goals and how we can understand the science of behavior change to maximize our changes of making these goals stick.
The ABC’s of Behavior
“It’s not about changing the person, it’s just about changing the process.” – Dr. Sean Young
Dr. Sean Young, Executive Director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology, brings his scientific knowledge of Psychology to the table and applies it to behavior. He has worked with NASA, spoke at the European Parliament (among other forums), and authored ‘Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life - For Good’', a #1 Wall Street Journal Best-Seller.
He classifies three types of behavior…
Automatic – These are behaviors we aren’t aware we have. Think of the things you do several times each hour but don’t realize it. This could be the habit of interrupting people in conversation or finishing their thoughts before they finish their sentence.
Burning – We are aware of these behaviors, but it feels like we can’t quit them. They often feel like addictions. Think of things like checking your phone first thing every single morning.
Common – These are behaviors we are aware of, but we often can’t stick with them because other things come up. These are the behaviors that are most likely to be the ones we want to change. These include things like running. You may want to go for a run each morning but there’s no chance of you hopping out of bed, running for thirty minutes, and getting back without realizing you even did it.
Not all behaviors are created equal and habits don’t always solve the problem. Understanding the different types of behavior allows you to identify them in yourself and approach them in the best way possible.
Now that we have identified the different types of behaviors we can bucket them and figure out the best way to approach changing them.
SCIENCE: Seven Tools for Behavior Change
“In general, the more of them that you use, the more likely you are to stick with things.” – Dr. Sean Young
Using the acronym S.C.I.E.N.C.E (which we LOVE!), Dr. Young provides the essential toolkit for changing our behavior.
S – Step-ladders: We need to attack large goals by breaking them down into small steps. When you want to make big changes in your life break the goal down into bit sized chunks. This helps you stay motivated and see forward progress consistently.
C – Community: As we’ve touched on before, goals are much easier to accomplish when we have a group or tribe around us with the same goal. Find others who share your goals. If you can find them in person, great! If not, find an inline community and start interacting.
I – Important: This may seem simple but it’s often overlooked by many when trying to achieve goals and change their behaviors. THINK. Why is this important? If you want to stop overeating what does that mean? What will your life look like if you lose 20 pounds? How will others look at you? Why is that important to you? This can be an incredibly powerful source of information.
E – Easy: A lot of times when we have a good habit in our lives and we stop following through, something has changed. Life is constantly changing and how we approach our goals must change with it. When you break down your goals try to plan around making them as easy to accomplish as possible. For instance if you go to the gym and then move further away, change gyms to one closer to your new home. Think, how can I back into this goal and make it easy?
N – Neuro-Hacks: Many believe that their behaviors are “just how they are”. This could not be further from the truth. We need to hack our mindset to reverse this believe. Science has proven that behaviors can be changed and we need to shift our mindset to believe the science.
C – Captivating: Captivating is all about rewarding yourself. Place a light at the end of the tunnel. Is your goal to go one year without smoking? Find something you love, something you truly want but would not provide yourself every day and make this your reward. For instance, if you lose 25 pounds you’re going to treat yourself to a beach trip to show off a new bathing suit.
E – Engrained: If you follow the science, these new behaviors will become engrained in your new routine. Try to make these new behaviors as automatic as possible but it can only happen through time, planning, and hard work.
Now, you may not be able to use all of these tools but the more of these tools you use the better. Dr. Sean Young also notes that some are better than others for specific types of behavior, such as Easy being useful for Types A and B, while Community is most useful for Type C.
Dr. Sean Young elaborates on the idea of Step-ladders as being particularly powerful. Where most self-development theories promote the idea of “small steps”, they often fall short in describing exactly what the means and how to determine what steps to take. He recommends breaking things down into three tiers:
Dreams: These will take three months or more.
Goals: These will take one to three months.
Steps: These will take one week or less.
Which Came First: The Thought or the Behavior
“It’s actually our behavior that resets our mind and gets our mind to change.” – Dr. Sean Young
Conventional wisdom (and motivational speakers) like to encourage ‘Visualization’ as a method of achieving your desired success. This is based on the notion that your behaviors begin in the mind. However, recent research has showed us that this isn’t true. Sticking with a behavior begins with changing your behavior – and the mind will follow.
He recalls a study where two groups were brought in to listen to a series of advertisements. One group was told to nod their heads up and down while listening; the other was told to nod their heads from side to side. The group that nodded their heads up and down agreed with the advertisements more than the other group, suggesting that a physical gesture of approval led to a mental approval.
Next, he recalls a story of a man who had been going through a tough time following a divorce. Wanting a change in his life, he decided to change his password to “4giveher”. Typing this new password every day aided in his overcoming the negative emotions which overwhelmed him. After seeing success with this tactic, he applied the same principle to quitting smoking and it worked exceptionally.
Captivating Rewards for Behavior Change
“Rewards definitely work, but we need figure out which types of rewards are best suited for which individuals and when.” – Dr. Sean Young
Often times, people need some sort of incentive to go out of their way to do something differently. And when motivation is lacking, rewards must lie on the other side of a challenge to encourage anyone to attempt them.
Unfortunately, most ideas of rewards are based on very specific studies done on animals. These studies observe the effect of two of the most powerful rewards: Freedom and feeding. However, this is not necessarily an effective method for every person in every situation. You must determine what type of behavior you’re dealing with to determine a captivating reward and appropriate time to receive it.
Actions for Change
“What’s something that you can do today that will move you toward that dream of accomplishing what you want to continue doing.” – Dr. Sean Young
Dr. Sean Young ends by providing a few steps to implement whenever you’re looking to change your behavior:
1. Determine what type of behavior you’re attempting to change (Automatic, Burning, or Common).
2. Implement as many aspects of SCIENCE as you can to achieve the desired change.
3. Create a calendar of steps and goals to reach your dream behavior.
4. Reflect on your progress, be proud, and reward yourself.