Oct. 25. 2019
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

How can we break those pesky old habits? And how do we make our new habits stick? Here you’ll learn how to make a behavior change.

When you’re looking to make a significant lifestyle adjustment, mastering the art of behavior change can be the key to your success.

We’re all trying to change one behavior or another in order to help better ourselves. Whether you’re looking to improve your health, increase productivity or even reduce stress, these tried and true behavior change strategies will help get you to your goal.

Regardless of the desired result, the journey to the finish line is all the same. It all comes down to behavior change!

What is Behavior Change?

Behavior change is the process of changing or adjusting a preexisting behavior in order to instill a new one. It’s the business of habit breaking and reforming – in order for us to make a significant behavior change, we need to break an old habit and form a brand new one.

Changing preexisting behaviors is tricky no matter how you look at it. We’ve already discussed why behavior change is so difficult here, so this time around we’re talking all about how to push past those obstacles in order to make your behavior change stick.

How To Instill Behavior Change

Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It is possible and you can do it, remember that.

There will be some speed bumps along the way, but with the proper tools and guidance you can glide right over those speed bumps and keep on keeping on towards your goal!

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

The Transtheoretical Model (also referred to as the Stages of Change Model) essentially breaks down the process of behavior change into specific stages. The model is based on the idea that as we slowly but surely change our behaviors, we progress through a series of defined stages.

Understanding these stages will help you to determine where you are on the pathway to changing a behavior, and what you should focus on working towards next.

The Five Stages Of Change:

  1. Precontemplation – no idea that a change even needs to be made
  2. Contemplation – realized a change needs to be made, seriously thinking about making it
  3. Preparation – decided to make a change, some steps have been taken
  4. Action – additional steps have been taken and the behavior has been substantially changed
  5. Maintenance – the behavior has been changed and maintained continuously (1)

So, what stage are you currently in?

This part really is key – lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t just jump from contemplation to maintenance, behavior change takes time and practice. Focus on getting yourself from one stage to the next rather than just to the end goal. This can help minimize the magnitude of the behavior change and make the process a bit more manageable.

Now that you know what stage you’re starting in, let’s work on getting you to the next one.

Write It All Down

I’m almost positive I’m not going to be the first person to tell you this, but it’s important enough for it to be repeated one last time. Research has proven time and time again that the more we write things down, the more we remember them. This is often referenced in terms of note-taking and memorization in school, but it can just as easily be applied to adults changing behaviors.

A recent study was conducted by a professor of psychology looking to investigate how goal achievement is influenced by different methods. One of the methods she explored was the physical recording of goals. The study found that those who wrote their goals down accomplished significantly more than those who did not (2).

Write down the new habit you want to perform, the change you want to make. Write down the ultimate goal you want to achieve. It’s as simple as that!

If you’re someone who likes to journal or use a planner to keep yourself organized, record your goals right there! Whatever the method, just be sure to write it all down. Future you will thank you.

The Power Of Habit

Habits are extremely powerful. Think about your morning routine, the way you do your laundry, or even the way you cook your food – our habits are seamlessly weaved into our daily lives. They allow us to go through the motions without having to use ample brainpower for every minute task.

The success of a behavior change is heavily reliant upon our ability to break and reform some of these habits. Albeit tricky, there are a few steps you can take to make the process go a bit smoother.

Determine The Habit You Need to Break

First, determine the habit you need to break. For example, say you’ve decided to break your afternoon baked good habit, where you run over to the bakery across the street from work around 3:00 pm every day.

Replace The Old Habit

Now, what is the new habit you’re going to form in place of the old one? This is very important. If you’re left with no replacement, the chances of you caving and reverting to old habits are very high. For our purposes, let’s say you’ve decided to bring a snack from home instead of going to the bakery.

Work Through The Details

Lastly, we need to work through the details involved in forming the new habit.  We’ll have to determine what we’ll have for a snack, when we’ll prepare the snack, how long it will take to prep the snack, etc. The more thought you put into establishing the new habit, the easier it will be to execute.

If it’s going to be a habit, it has to become second nature. This takes time.

Habits eliminate the need for willpower when you perform the behavior. In the beginning, it will be extremely hard to resist reverting back to old habits. Yet over time, your new habit will eventually be so ingrained in your daily routine that you won’t even think about the bakery across the street.

Be consistent, stick to a routine, and make that habit stick.

Self-efficacy And Behavior Change

If we don’t believe in ourselves if we’re consistently thinking about the negative components, the drawbacks, the difficulties along the way, our chances of succeeding diminish.

Your internal motivators, self-efficacy and self-regulating skills are key to successfully changing behavior (3).

For some people, this will be second nature. For others, you will need to work at this. As you’re creating a plan for changing behavior, take some time to reflect. Think about why you want to make the change, what outcome you are seeking, how you will feel once your goal is achieved.

Spend some time with yourself and build a relationship with yourself, one that will allow you to become in tune with your thoughts, goals, ambitions, and decisions. Learn to trust yourself and your instincts. Building a relationship with yourself takes time, but it is worth the benefit you will gain in the long run.

A great way to do this is through journaling. Take a small amount of time per day or even per week to reflect on your goals, your weaknesses, your pain points. As we learned above, simply putting pen to paper can make all the difference.

Define Your Weaknesses

We all have strengths and weaknesses. The better we understand them, the more likely we are to succeed in changing a behavior. Acknowledge and determine what your weaknesses and triggers are.

If you’re trying to make healthier food choices, at what points do you usually make unhealthy choices? When you’re stressed? If you’re with certain people? When you’re feeling sad or lonely? Determine these pain points and game plan how you will prepare for these situations.

Is there a stress-management tactic that you could try? Could you speak to the people you’re frequently around about your goals and your ambitions? The more you plan ahead the better prepared you will be.

With that being said, it’s also extremely important for you to anticipate some failure. I know I know, that’s not exactly what you would like to hear right now, but you absolutely need to. There will be some speed bumps down the road that you aren’t able to glide over. You may stumble, fall or slip up. And that is perfectly fine. Prepare for failure, accept it, and keep on trying.

If you forget to put gas in your car and your car stalls on the way to work, are you going to throw your hands up and say “oh well, I guess I can’t use my car anymore”? I didn’t think so. Congruently, when you slip up or have a misstep, don’t beat yourself up or give up. Accept it, try and understand why it happened, then move on and keep on keeping on.

Stay Accountable

We all need to be held accountable. Some people are able to do this on their own, they know how to hold themselves accountable and monitor their actions. For others, support is needed.

The same study we discussed in relation to handwriting and goal achieving can also be applied to accountability. The study proved a positive association between communicating goals with others and successful behavior change. More specifically, when participants frequently updated others with their progress, their success was higher (4).

If accountability is a piece that you struggle with, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help can be in the form of a friend, a health professional or any other expert who specializes in the behavior you are trying to change.

Time and time again I find that accountability from a knowledgable professional is the final piece clients need to reach their goals. If the behavior change you are trying to make involves eating or lifestyle habits, wellness coaching may be the right fit for you.

Put It Into Practice

Determine what stage of change you are in, define your pain points and tackle them.

When combined and modified to suit you and your specific needs, these tools will allow you to take control of your habits and make the changes you seek!

Connect With Us

What has your experience been with behavior change? Have you had success by utilizing any of these methods? We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! I’m sure someone else reading the article would as well. As always, you can connect with us outside of the website on Instagram via @nutritionstripped @nutritionstrippederica and #nutritionstripped #nswellnesscoaching.