From weight loss to quitting smoking – 3 essential keys to behavior change

From weight loss to quitting smoking - 3 essential keys to successful behavior change.jpg

Have you ever wanted to break a bad habit or improve your life in some manner?   If you were successful at doing so, what made you that way? 

To make a change you must first be aware of a problem.  Maybe you’ve gained weight causing knee pain.  Or maybe you have smoked for 20 years and are now suffering the effects of emphysema.  How are some people able to be successful while many others struggle for years to make meaningful changes and sometimes never do?

It is a rare person who sets out to make a behavior change who only encounters smooth sailing and steady progress towards their goal.  However, there are 3 critical keys to making behavior changes happen and to make them stick.  The three keys are having competence, confidence, and motivation. 

1.     Competence

Competence, out of the three keys, is the most easily obtained.  Competence means that you have the needed knowledge or skill to make the change.  For example, a person knows they need to stretch more and wants to learn yoga.  They may join a yoga class or go online viewing videos learning and gaining knowledge on how to do the correct form.  To deal with a more serious situation such as excessive alcohol intake, seeking outside help from reputable agencies may be needed to accomplish a change.

2.     Confidence

Confidence is when a person possesses the needed knowledge and skills with a strong belief in their own abilities.  This is known as having the quality of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to take action and successfully perform a specific behavior.  People with self-efficacy have the belief they have control over their life’s events.  The more they believe in themselves and their ability to change their life for the better, the more likely they will be successful in doing so. 

3.     Motivation

Out of the three keys to successful behavior change, this one is the hardest and yet ultimately, the most important.  You can have all the competence and confidence in the world, but if you lack motivation, little to no change will occur.  In order for behavior change to happen, you have to have sufficient motivation to do so.  It’s kind of like saying “I’m healthy and feel good now, so why should I eat more healthy?”  Motivation arises when the expected benefit or reward of the behavior change outweighs its perceived cost. 

Motivation is often based on the concept of rewards – the person making a change must expect that important rewards will follow the altered behaviors.  There are 4 factors affecting rewards:

1.      The value of the reward – how big is the reward?

2.      Its timing – how soon will the reward come?

3.      The costs – What are the risks or consequences of seeking the reward?

4.      Its probability – how likely is the reward to occur.

This is one of the reasons why making dietary changes, like losing weight, often eludes people because of timing, cost, and probability factors.  They have to wait too long or they perceive the cost is too high. 

Knowing the three keys to successful behavior change can help you assess just how likely you are to make the change happen.  By setting goals, having family support, and practicing the new behaviors regularly, can make the necessary transition to new behavior changes as comfortable and familiar as the old behaviors once were.