Behavior change in 7 steps

Most people spend a lot of time every day thinking about and planning for the future. Very often it remains just thinking and planning and actual change does not get off the ground. This has to do with the fact that it can feel scary to step outside your own comfort zone. To walk paths that are still unknown. Yet the desire for change is often so great that people become unhappy and dissatisfied with themselves. They consider themselves weak because they cannot achieve their plans and intentions. In this situation it may help to follow the step-by-step plan described below. This describes the steps you need to take to achieve a behavioral change and to maintain this change.

Be open

The first step to changing behavior is being open. This means that you must pay attention to cues that steer you in the direction of new behavior. A good example is the inclusion of warning texts on cigarette packs. Most smokers are not open to these messages that want to make it clear that smoking is bad for their health. Because they are not open to this message, it is not picked up. There are even smokers who have a special cover for their cigarette pack to completely shield this message.
The moment you decide that you want to change behavior, it is important to first be open to messages that support this decision. Let this information in and decide to what extent it fits your desire for change.
Actively look for information yourself. For example, ask friends and acquaintances what they think of your current behavior and what they would think if you changed it. Ask them for honest feedback and thank them for it.

To understand

The next step is to understand the information. This also includes accepting and remembering the information. Sometimes it is necessary to receive information through different channels before the penny drops. For example, if you have decided to change your spending pattern by spending 100 less every month, it is important to know and understand what this will ultimately bring you. This information helps you stay motivated to change behavior. In addition, you also need to know how you can get by with 100 less. You can think about this yourself, but you can also ask for help from friends or acquaintances or from professionals or experts. It is important that this information matches your personal situation, so that you can understand the information and also accept and remember it.


The third, very important step is wanting. Without motivation, it will most likely not be possible to bring about a change in behavior. People who have already experienced direct disadvantages from their behavior will often have a higher motivation for change than people who have not yet experienced this. For example, if you love fast food and prefer to eat at the snack bar every day, it is often difficult to convince yourself that it is better to give up the hamburger today. Only when those around you tell you that you are much fatter than before, or worse, if you develop heart disease due to too high cholesterol, do you realize that it is really time for a change. It is often important for health to be ahead of this critical point. You can strengthen your motivation by, for example, listing the pros and cons of the change for yourself and also emphasizing what the consequences will be for the longer term. You can also ask people around you to help motivate you, for example by agreeing on a reward with your partner for a change in behavior.

Being able to cope

Now that you have your own motivation, it is also important to be able to withstand external pressure. To be able to deal with social pressure and support. To this end, it may be important to increase resilience, for example by talking to experienced experts or following resilience training. For example, people who have decided to stop drinking alcohol often have difficulty with social occasions such as birthdays and dinners, where drinking alcohol is often seen as fun. Sometimes a non-drinker is even considered unsociable by the company. It can help to inform people you know about your decision to change and ask them to support you in difficult situations.

Can perform

Of course it is important that you can make the change happen. You can want a lot, but if the change is impossible, for example because you do not have the right skills, then it is important to do something with it. For example, if you decide that you are going to run for half an hour every day, but you have not yet built up fitness, it is important to build up slowly to reach that half hour. It may also happen that you are physically unable to make the desired change, for example if you are not allowed to run due to a physical condition. Then look for the deeper desire behind the behavioral change. If you want to exercise more, swimming or cycling might be an option.


The next step is of course doing it. But for many people that is easier said than done. By going through the previous steps, you run the risk of over-analyzing the situation and getting stuck in making plans without implementing the desired behavior. The advice here is very simple, just do it from day one. You can always adjust your behavior if your reflections show that your wish is different. Also ask for feedback on your new behavior and give yourself feedback on it, so that you know you are on the right track. And don’t set your goals too big. If necessary, divide your goals into small steps that still offer a challenge. For example, if you want to swim across the channel, use a realistic time frame. Then start practicing for shorter distances in a swimming pool and gradually expand to longer distances in natural water. Keep evaluating yourself so that you know that you remain motivated and it remains a challenge for you.

Keep doing

Once you have reached the ‘doing’ step, the only step left is to continue doing what you are doing now. This is how you perpetuate the new behavior. As long as everything continues to go well, it is usually possible to continue the behavioral change. It is important to persevere even when things don’t go so well. When you go back to a cigarette, don’t think that there is no point anymore because you have failed. Pick up the thread immediately and continue where you left off before the negative experience. And also see the negative experiences as a learning opportunity from which you can continue to grow. It can help if you make a plan in advance about how you will deal with negative experiences and setbacks. If necessary, ask for the support of your loved ones, who can support you in difficult times.

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