Changing Behaviour – Goals and Motivation

Changing Behaviour

Why is it that most of us fail to make these changes and if we do make changes why do we fall back into our old habits? The below information may assist you to make those long term changes to your life.

Psychologists believe that fear is the biggest barrier to us achieving our life goals. The fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of repeating past mistakes and the fear of getting hurt. We all want to make changes to our lives eg get fit, take up a hobby, stop smoking, start a new career are just some examples of changes we might want to make. However, what we would like to do and what we actually attempt to do are two different things and the fear of failure stops us from attempting to do things. I would suggest a book named “Who Moved My Cheese” by Doctor Spencer Johnson as an excellent book that can give you insight in regards to who you are and why you might not be able to make change in your life. One of the learnings I got from the book is that we fear change because we fear failure. However, if we can turn that thought around to say that if we knew that the change will be successful rather than being a failure then how much more motivated we would be to make the necessary changes in our lives.

If you can get over your fears, then how do you set about making change in your life? The first thing you need to do is work out what changes you want to make and to set goals in regards to the changes. A goal is a statement expressing what you want to achieve. It is important to consider all areas of life when setting goals, so that a balance may be maintained between them. You need to consider all aspects of your life, health, social, mind (emotional and intellectual), relationships and spiritual and ensure some time is spent upon each.

Setting goals in all areas of your life is important, as you need to organise your time to work towards success in each. Many people only set goals and plan tasks for work related activities. They wonder why that holiday they hoped for or that dinner party they wanted never happened.

Goals help provide motivation and direction for your activities. They assist you to remain focused on what you wish to achieve. Goal setting means taking control rather than being controlled by events and other people. Goal setting helps to avoid that I feel like I’m getting nowhere feeling.

Hints on Setting Goals

  • Write them down! You can refer to them, others can see them (if desired) and you can evaluate them.
  • The best Goals are SMART Goals.
  • Make them Specific (I want to exercise three times a week for an hour each time).
  • Mark them Measurable (ties in with being specific in the above example measurable for the above is 3 times a week).
  • Make them Achievable (Don’t expect to be a marathon runner in 2 months if you have no fitness base).
  • Make them Timely (Work out a time frame with small steps/milestones along the way).
  • Review them regularly at the end of each day, week or month depending on if they are short or long term goals.
  • Reward yourself when a milestone or step has been achieved in your plan.
  • Think of the barriers that might arise in achieving the goal and identify the contingency actions you plan to take.
  • Find people who have a similar goal and use them to help motivate you. A training partner will always motivate you to get up for that early morning session.

In general terms, make a checklist of the steps needed and the time line. Look at the checklist regularly to further motivate yourself to achieve your goals. When you achieve a significant milestone give yourself praise because you are moving towards your goal. Reflect on the progress you have made, look back on what you have done and then look forward to what further you need to do.

What you want to do with your goals is identify small steps to take you where you want to be. Significant change in one’s life is really changing your lifestyle and unfortunately, humans are creatures of habit. So if your long term goal is significant, my advice is to talk it over with anybody who is going to be affected by the changes you are aiming for to gain support and assist you with motivation.

Once you have set your goals the obvious next step is to GET STARTED!! Set a time and place and then DO IT (start). It doesn’t matter how small the first step is as long as it gets you closer to what you want to achieve.

Once you are on your way you need to remain positive, motivated and focused on achieving one small goal at a time. Invariably you will have set backs and some habits will be harder to change than you first anticipated.

If you do “fall off the wagon” don’t give up and throw away all the things that you have achieved, you should:

  • Take stock and congratulate yourself for the things that you have achieved.
  • Stop yourself from focusing only on the things that you haven’t yet been able to achieve or maintain.
  • Set some new short term goals that will help you get back on track.
  • Ask your family and friends for some encouragement and support.
  • Take the first step towards achieving the new short term goal.

Changing Old Habits

The problem with changing old habits or learning new skills is that we have to go through a 4-Stage Process of Learning:

  1. Unconsciously Incompetent (Not even aware if you can do that skill, haven’t even thought about trying it).
  2. Consciously Incompetent. (You are consciously trying a new skill but it takes a lot of effort and you are not very good at it e.g. when a child starts playing a musical instrument)
  3. Consciously Competent (You can play the instrument but you really need to focus on what you are doing etc)
  4. Unconsciously Competent (It becomes a natural thing that you can do without really thinking about it)

Similarly to the above, think about how much conscious effort and thinking/planning you needed to put in when you were first learning to drive a car which is basically Stage 2 and 3 (make sure the clutch is in, turn the key , put it into gear, take the break off etc). However, after many years of driving think about how you drive now, its automatic and this is stage 4 unconsciously competent. The problem we have with changing our habits is that we mainly give up on our new habits before we get to stage 4 and before the espouse habit/behaviour has become part of our life. At stage 2 and 3 our motivation needs to be strong to get us to learn the skill and become good (competent) at it. If our motivation is not strong than we give up doing the behaviour as it is all too hard. That is why a lot of people stop exercise programs after 6 to 8 weeks. The initial motivation has diminished but the exercise regime is still hard and thus the commitment is lost.

Last word of advice, you are the only person that has control over what you do. If you want to change something in your life you must fully accept that you need to change it, accept that change is necessary, then identify how you are going to make that change and believe in yourself you can achieve it.

Lindsay Trims
B.Beh.Sc., Grad.Dip.Psych., M.A.P.S