The ability to change our behaviour is a gift, sometimes however we forget to use it! It’s easy for every one of us to get very comfortable with a whole range of behaviours that become well worn and frankly predictable. That’s of course OK when those behaviours bring the best out of me and others, but not nearly as good when they just serve to ‘get me by’ and even make life more difficult for others.
Changing behaviour is at the heart of good learning, it’s the part that is necessary if we are going to convert academic theories into meaningful application. As Bill Treasure put it, we can become too comfeartable to change, that’s too comfortable to bother, and too fearful to try. Comfort and fear are two huge barriers to trying something new, barriers we need to overcome if we are going to set up new (ever improving) behaviours to our portfolio of experience and ability.
So what does it take to change a behaviour? I want to propose that there are 4 things you need to consider. They will all help you address unhelpful behaviours and implement new more exciting ones.
Let’s take a scenario and run it through my four things…
This may sound daft, but I’m considering changing my very engrained behaviour of devouring relatively large amounts of salted peanuts throughout any given week! They’re a favourite, I’m diabetic, I struggle with carb heavy snacks and just don’t have a sweet tooth. In fact I’ve grown to love anything salty! Things like that salty Lagavulin whisky or salty liquorice are definite treats in my book. But we all know, too much salt is not a good thing, and I probably have way over may allowance stuffing in those addictive nuts! So how might I go about changing that behaviour?
I call the model ADAD.
The first element of behavioural change is becoming more aware of the potential change. We need to be conscious that change is possible. That often comes from the realisation that the current behaviour is unhelpful or at least not the best in any particular situation. Awareness can be self discerned, but sometimes it takes someone else to point it out to you. Where my nuts are concerned, I’ve been cutely aware that my salt fix is probably unhelpful, especially as my beautiful wife often points this out to me 😉
After awareness comes desire. It’s as good as impossible to change a behaviour unless you have some desire to do it! Desire often comes when I understand the benefits of the change… Why this new behaviour will benefit me or others in some way. As my youthfulness passes away (understatement) I’ve definitely developed a desire to prolong my overall health as log as possible, so I can tick the box on that one. Except I do really like snacking on salted nuts, so unfortunately my desire is somewhat countered by other less helpful ones! Behavioural change tends to come at the point the new desire starts to outweigh the old desires that keep us comfeartable and unwilling to make a difference.
The third requirement is to understand how to make the change. I have to learn and try new things to establish new ability. Sometimes this will mean removing the option of the old habit to help me practice new ones. Ability requires positive action towards the new behaviour and movement away from an old engrained way of working. Inevitably this stage will be frequented with failures as you learn new approaches and fine tune the skill to perfection. For me this is probably as simple as buying more healthy snacks to replace the salt!
Finally to embed a new behaviour we need to duplicate it. Do it again and again until it becomes second nature so that I can call upon that behaviour reliably whenever I need it in the future. Repetition is sticky, so it will help you to build unconscious competence in the new practice.
So there you have it, four stages you can apply to anything, even eating habits to change your behaviour.
Have a listen to Squeeze episode 9 if you would like to find out some more about behavioural change.