6 Ways to Change Your Behavior

Often times we feel a lack of control over our lives, resulting in our desire to change our behaviors. Anytime you need or want to change your behavior, it’s going to be AVERSIVE!
This is because change is difficult, and difficulty equals aversiveness. As humans, we will always direct ourselves towards what is easiest and least resistive, unless the other path is more reinforcing. This makes difficulty less aversive, as the reinforcer (reward) increasing in desirability.

Since our lives are the result of our long-term behaviors (learning history), we must focus on small changes that can be accomplished continually, to create new and more appropriate behavioral habits. Following these 6 steps will make it easier to effectively change your behaviors and gain more control of your life:

1. Make the new behavior as enjoyable as possible.

What behaviors do you desire and what do you currently find aversive about starting to do them?

For example, many people want to start exercising. Sometimes you might even feel like you’re screaming at yourself inside, begging yourself to just start doing sit-ups or push-ups, but you don’t seem capable of making yourself do them. The more agreeable the new task is to you, the more likely you are to do it.

Possible AversivesPotential Solutions
The act of laying on the floor to start the exercise.Modify the Task – Find a new exercise that targets the areas you want to work on in a different way.
For example, use an exercise ball for sit-ups.
You feel (private event/ inner emotion) the exercise is too difficult to start. Modify the Task – Find a less difficult way to start the behavior and work your way up.
For example, use the kitchen counter to do less resistive inclined push-ups.
The lack of motivation to sit by themselves and start working out alone.Modify the Environment – Find a workout buddy with similar goals to you that will hold you accountable.
Non-example, don’t choose somebody who you look at as way above your realistic goals, or you won’t see behaviors as achievable.
Working out at home has too many distractions and I don’t want to pay for a gym membership!Modify the Environment – Find a more friendly place to work out, like a park (e.g., walking paths, basketball/tennis courts) or community center.

2. Make a list of the positive results.

By making a visual list, you’ll begin to see tasks more positively, as they can now be crossed off, completed, and seen as accomplishments (rather than aversive burdens). The keys are to note the benefits (reinforcing values) and to keep the list in plain view. For example, if you wanted to eat healthier, create a list of the positive aspects of healthier eating that you value.

Sample Healthy Eating List

How you may word your list …

  1. I’ll feel better.
  2. My clothes will fit better.
  3. I’ll enjoy more vigorous health.
  4. I can play with my kids more easily.
  5. I can go hiking again without tiring half way through the trek.
  6. I’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  7. I can go to the pool without feeling embarrassed.

What you’re saying with it …

  1. Lessen feelings of sluggishness and apathy.
  2. I think I’ll look more attractive.
  3. I’ll improve my sex life.
  4. Less stopping, taking breaks, and feeling pain when playing with my kids.
  5. More energy equals more ability to enjoy hobbies.
  6. Increased self-esteem
  7. Help with thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, increasing mental health.

3. Make the decision.

Just decide that you’re going to do it!!!
That’s the hardest part and the first step to accomplishing your goals! Until then, you’re just wishing.

4. Be mindful your thoughts.

Remember, your thoughts and emotions are private (inner) behaviors that only you can define and describe; but they are triggered, reinforced, and follow the same rules of behavior as the ones you can visually observe. Meaning, if you focus your attention on how much you don’t like doing something (how aversive and difficult is it), it will be much more difficult to get yourself to do it. For example, if you keep telling yourself you can’t accomplish a goal, or that it’s too difficult, it will be much harder to accomplish, or try to. The solution is, you have to be MINDFUL!

Steps to being mindful

  1. Try to catch yourself having negative thoughts as early as possible.
  2. When a negative thought arises, substitute a new thought from the list you made in step #2.
  3. The more incentive you have, the more likely you are to be successful.
    • For example, if you focus on how much better you’ll look and feel after eating healthier for three months, your probability of success go up significantly.

5. Reward yourself afterwards.

Reinforce your new behaviors!!! Remember, desired consequences after engaging in a behavior, that increase that behavior in the future, is a REINFORCER! If you want a new behavior to be a habit, it has to be reinforced. Meaning, whatever you use to treat and reward yourself needs to only be achievable by engaging in the new behavior!

For example, if you want to hangout with friends and family more often, and you really like Starbucks, only allow yourself to get Starbucks while with those friends and family members. You’ll enjoy the drinks more because you have it less (more deprived than you’re used to being) and you’ll value seeing them more.

6. Be diligent.

Starting a new behavior is difficult. People get into routines because they have become easy and have been reinforced. The longer your learning history is with an old behavior, the harder it is to change. For example, its harder to stop calling your cousin by their family nickname than it is a co-worker you met at the office. It is very easy to backslide (reinforce old behaviors) if you get distracted and stop paying attention (stop focusing on reinforcing the new behaviors).

  • Every day, in the beginning, you should review how you did.
    How successful were you with performing the new behavior?
  • As you progress the new behavior will become a habit.
  • Once you can reliably perform the new behavior in different settings and around different people (i.e., generalization), you can focus on it less, and allow it to just be a natural expression of you.

In Summary …

Changing behaviors can be difficult, but making changes can improve your life in the long-term. Examine which behaviors you might want to do differently to take your life to the next level, and then apply the process above.

Remember to be patient with yourself, the longer you’ve done something your current way, the more profound the learning history. All behaviors take time to change, but if you follow these steps you can do it!


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