Things are changing.
The sun rises and it sets. As do the tides. And seasons change.
Yet, many people say they hate change. They do not want to change. Perhaps they are afraid of change.
Whether we like it or not, change is a fact of life! Therefore, it is important to know how change works in our lives and how we can use this knowledge to change ourselves for the better.
In this post, I will discuss behaviour change and briefly outline the keys to changing ourselves.
Positive and negative change
Firstly, understand that change can be either positive or negative.
Positive and negative are not to be confused with good and bad. Both can be either good or bad. By positive change, I mean the addition of something. That is, you start doing something new. For example, you might add a 30-minute walk to your Morning routine. This is both positive and good. However, adding another 5 cm to one's waistline is also positive but not so good.
By negative change, I mean the elimination of something. That is, you stop doing something you were previously doing. For example, you might eliminate sugar from your tea or coffee. This is negative and good. However, one may stop taking the stairs at work, which is also negative but not so good.
Reflect! Now is a good time to pause and reflect on what are some things you might like to change. And ask yourself, 'Am I making a positive or negative change?'.
Write or type your answer somewhere. Not only will it help you remember, you will also be more likely to follow through on making that change.
Keys to behaviour change
Below I will outline some key aspects to behaviour change. As you read this, continue to think about the change you wish to bring about in your own life.
Start with why
Many people think about what they want to change and how they will do so. But, they often miss the most important part of the puzzle...
This is first and most important question I ask my clients when we first discuss behaviour change.
Why do you want to lose weight?
Why do you want to quit smoking?
Why do you want to start exercising?
When you ask yourself the question of 'Why?', it helps to go a few layers deep. Here is an example: "I want to lose weight... because my doctor told me... because it is better for my knees... because I have arthritis in my knees and losing weight will help put less pressure on them".
Now compare that to the following: "I want to lose weight... because I want to be fitter... because I want to be able to spend more quality time with my grandchildren".
Your why will be unique to you. Knowing exactly why you want to change will make you more likely to succeed and make the journey feel much easier.
From a clinician's perspective, knowing a client's why helps me make better decisions as to what sort of education they may need and what type of exercise program will best satisfy their end goal.
If you don't start with why, then why even start?
Know the how
Now you know why you want to change. Next comes the 'How?'.
Many of my clients tell me, 'Everyone knows how'. For example, everyone knows how to lose weight. And in fact, it is true. The how is pretty simple. So let's keep it that way.
The how is the overall approach to making that change. It is a bridge between why you want to change and what you are going to do about it. It is not a list of things to do (that is coming) but rather it is how those things will help you achieve your goals.
For example, 'I want to lose weight by eating less and doing regular exercise.
You can also get more specific. For example, 'I will eat less by replacing unhealthy snacks with healthier options and avoid eating too much at dinner. I will do regular exercise by walking more during the week and going to the gym on the weekends'.
The benefit of knowing the how can help you better design the list of things you need to do (see below). For example, sometimes clients tell me they do a particular action everyday to help manage their health but they do not know how that actually helps them. By understanding the how, they are able to come up with other ways of satisfying the what. For example, 'eating less' could be done by using a smaller plate at dinner, but it could also be done by avoiding the muffin with the Morning coffee.
Specify the what
You now know the overall approach to making the change. It is now time to specify the what.
The what is the thing(s) you need to do to satisfy the how and achieve the why.
Again, the what will vary from one person to another. Below are two examples.
'In order to avoid eating too much at dinner, I will:
Have an apple when I first get home from work
Drink a glass of water right before dinner
Place my spoon on my plate between each mouthful
'In order to walk more during the week, I will:
Get off the bus 2 stops earlier and walk to work every Morning
Take the stairs up to work
Do a 15 minute walk during my lunch hour
Walk the dog around the local park at 6 PM
Each of these steps become a really specific action item. You know exactly whether or not you are doing it.
Keep an activity diary to track your success. To see our templates, go to resources.
Benefits of this approach
By following these steps, you will have more mental clarity as to what exactly you need to do, how it will help you and why you should bother. And what's more, all of this will be unique to you.
But there are other benefits of following these steps. By writing down each aspect, you can easily identify the gaps. For example, you might know why you want to make a change and even what you need to do. But then you may realize you don't know how those steps work. Or whether they are even effective. For example, how does cutting salt from the diet help with blood pressure? Or how does exercise help reduce glucose in your blood?
The benefit of knowing the how can help you better design the to-do list. For example, sometimes clients tell me they do a particular action everyday to help manage their health condition but they do not know how that actually helps them. By understanding the how, they are able to come up with other ways of satisfying the what. For example, 'eating less' could be done by using a smaller plate at dinner, but it also helps to cut down on the pre-dinner snacking.
Following these steps will also help you to ask better questions. For example, instead of 'How can I lose weight?' you might ask, 'In addition to my daily walk, what other exercises can I do at home to help me burn more calories?'. The latter is much more specific and you are more likely to get a helpful response (assuming you ask the right person).
Following these steps will also allow you to better track your progress. By having the list of steps (the what) outlined, you can begin to measure and track them separately. For example, tracking your daily steps or minutes walked during the week or the amount of water you drink daily.
Understanding and making changes to our behaviour is important.
Change can be positive or negative.
Keys to making behaviour change:
Start with why
Know the how
Specify the what
Start your change journey today! You can complete this form online and have your action plan emailed to you!
Or you can download a paper version from the resources page.
Share - If you found this blog post to be useful, you can help your friends and family start their journey by sharing this post with them.
Get in touch - If you have a specific question, or would like to go through these steps with a clinician, contact us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hassan Qureshi is the founder and owner of Holistic Exercise Physiology. He believes educating and communicating good science to the wider public is not only important but is the responsibility of every clinician. For this reason he started the Holistic blog.
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