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Understanding the HOW of Behaviour Change

In this Vision Personal Training article, we discuss the importance of understanding the how of behaviour change. Click here to read more.
Weight Loss Articles
Weight Loss Articles

By Matt Gedye at Hawthorn

"You might as well take responsibility for what goes right, because no one else will take the blame for what goes wrong"

 Richie Benaud


A map has been laid out on the table, and you draw a big cross on your destination. X marks the spot. Then you draw a circle around where you are now, where you're starting from. All that remains is to draw a line connecting the 'X' and the circle. But as soon as you go to put pen to paper you pause. Unsure of where to draw the line, as there are so many directions and so many paths to take…

With regard to behaviour change it's not unusual, in fact it's quite common, to lack an understanding of HOW to effect change within oneself. In my previous article, I mentioned how we must first establish WHAT we want and WHY we want it, but that's not enough. We need to answer one more question, the question of HOW. Fortunately, by already having an understanding of where X lies on our map, WHAT our destination is, and WHY we want to get there, we're already on the right track to effecting change in our behaviour. Interestingly, in my experience at least, HOW we do something, is actually very simple to answer, but very difficult to execute. Quickly think to yourself now about what it takes to lose weight, HOW you do it. Do the phrases "eat healthy and exercise" come to mind? What about "cut out sugar? Drink less? Avoid fattening foods?" We all know what we have to do. We all know HOW to lose weight. But just because a certain concept may seem simple, it doesn't mean that it's easy. When we're looking to change our behaviours, many, if not all of us, actually find it exceptionally hard. Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend I have all the answers to the question of HOW, but what I'd like to share are three strategies that I have found useful in helping to keep me on track when I've been striving to reach my own goals and effect change in my own behaviour.

The first is planning. Let's continue to use the map analogy. You know WHAT you want, that's your X on the map. It can be a goal weight, an amount of money, 1st place in a race. Whatever it is, that's your X! A specific, measurable, tangible goal that you're striving towards. Now, before you can even begin to think about HOW to draw the line from the circle (that is who you are now) to your X, you need to know and understand WHY you want to draw that line in the first place! If you lay out that path without a proper reason WHY and for whatever reason you veer off the main road, you will find it very difficult to find your way back. It goes without saying that the path you draw on your map will not be straight. There will always be obstacles, there will always be smaller paths that will divert you and may even send you backwards. But if you know WHY you want to get to your X, you will always be able to find your way back to the main road!

Once you've understood that, all that remains is to draw the line from your circle, to your X. You need to plan. Ever heard the expression "practice, planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance?" Brian Tracy, author of the award winning book Goals, says that a few extra hours and days in planning can save years in execution, and the first step in goal setting (that's all planning really is) is to start with the end in mind and work backwards. So, think about your X and assign a date to it. The exact day, month and year that you want reach your X. Giving yourself a deadline will immediately create a sense of urgency and anticipation which will spur you into action. How much harder do you work to complete an assignment when you have a deadline? As opposed to "just getting it done when you can?" You can always reassess the deadline. Just because you didn't reach X when you said you would, does that mean you stop and give up? No! It means you set a new deadline and keep going!

Once you've stablished when you want to reach your X, you need to draw your first dot. At some point on your map there will be a spot that you know you must reach before you can reach X. To make this clearer for you, I'll use weight loss as an example. Let's say X is to lose 20KG. If someone wanted to lose 20KG, they must first lose 10. Therefore, 10KG becomes the first dot on their map. Remember that these goals must be SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE. How else would we know if we've reached them if they're not? How can we work backwards if we don't know exactly what we're striving for? Think about our friend who wants to lose 20kg. If they assessed their X as "Lose some weight" or "get toned" how do we go backwards? How do you get halfway to "get toned?" What does that look like? X needs to be SPECIFIC and it needs to be MEASURABLE. Think hard now about your X. How can you break that goal down into something smaller that can be achieved sooner? That becomes your first dot. Draw it on the map, and assign it a date! Then we need another dot. For our friend who wants to lose 20KG, we've established they must first lose 10. In order to lose 10, they must first lose 5KG. That becomes the next dot. Can you see where I'm going with this? The idea of starting with the end in mind and working backwards is to work backwards far enough to the point that you develop a list of small goals that you can do every day to lead you towards the next dot on your map.

So, we've started with the end in mind and worked backwards. Now we have a map with an X and a series of dots. This is your plan. But HOW do we connect the dots? This leads me into my second strategy. Resources! You are not expected to know everything it takes in order to reach X on your map. If you did, you would already be there! Take the time to identify what knowledge you lack. If you get stuck at a certain dot, you need to assess what you don't know in order to keep moving and you need to seek out that knowledge. Resources come in many different varieties, from people with the expertise you require, books and documentaries, items of value and past experiences. These resources become your compass. They guide you from one dot to the next until you reach X. You would be foolish not to use them. To not use the resources available to you would be like having a compass in your hand that will definitely point North, but choosing not to look it at and attempt to head North of your own volition. You might go in the right direction, but you could just as easily head South. We live in an age where we have access to a greater amount of resources than ever before. Let's use them!

So, you've laid out the path on the map. You've got your X, and the dots that need to be connected to get to X. More importantly, you've got what you need to connect the dots. But there's one more thing you need to do answer the question of "HOW do I reach X?" You need to walk the path! Only YOU can do that. That's my final piece of advice. Take responsibility and never give up! The plan is established. The dots are in place. You know where to go now, and the resources are there to help you every step of the way. But only YOU can walk the path, no one can do it for you. I cannot stress the importance of taking action and responsibility enough! It's possible that someone else may come along and carry you some of the way to X. But they've got their own X. Everyone does! Are they going to drop everything they're doing, go on a detour and carry you to your X instead of to theirs? YOU must walk the path! Now I'm not naïve enough to think there won't be obstacles along the way to make it difficult (remember I said this was simple, not easy). There will be times when the line between two dots takes a detour and it takes longer to get to the next one. But think of it this way: Let's say you have 10 dots between your circle (now) and your X. Let's say you've made it to the fifth dot and you hit a massive roadblock. The path towards the sixth dot just cannot continue in the direction you originally thought. So, you pull out your compass. Your resources. You learn a little bit more about the knowledge you're lacking to get to the sixth dot and so you redraw the line. You have to go the long way around. Is that so bad? Is it as bad as going back to the fourth dot? Or the third dot? Or back to the circle?!

If you have a strong enough reason WHY you want to reach X, giving up should never be an option. It should never even be considered! You need to channel as much passion, energy and enthusiasm into reaching X as you can!

I could spend hours talking about the questions WHAT, WHY and HOW when we look to affect change in our behaviour. This is just scraping the surface. Like I said earlier, I'm not going to sit here and act like I have all the answers. These are just some strategies that help me and keep me focused.

I'd like to leave you with a quote by legendary cricket commentator Richie Benaud, who said this in response to his views on captaincy - "You might as well take responsibility for what goes right, because no one else will take the blame for what goes wrong".

Remember that HOW you reach your WHAT all comes down to YOU, and if you have a strong enough reason WHY, absolutely nothing will be able to stop you.  


*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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