Self-change is tough, but it's not impossible, nor does it have to be traumatic, according to change expert Stan Goldberg, Ph.D. Here, he lays out the 10 principles he deems necessary for successful change.
My mother died on Christmas day of a massive heart attack. I later counted 15 self-help books on her shelves, but found each offered only broad ideas; none provided the specifics necessary to save her life.
Like my mother, many of us want to change but simply don't know how to do it. After 25 years of researching how people change, I've discovered 10 major principles that encompass all self-change strategies. I've broken down those principles and, using one example—a man's desire to be more punctual—I demonstrate strategies for implementing change in your own life.
All Behaviors Are Complex
Research by psychologist James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., an internationally renowned expert on planned change, has repeatedly found that change occurs in stages. To increase the overall probability of success, divide a behavior into parts and learn each part successively.
Strategy: Break down the behavior
Almost all behaviors can be broken down. Separate your desired behavior into smaller, self-contained units.
He wanted to be on time for work, so he wrote down what that would entail: waking up, showering, dressing, preparing breakfast, eating, driving, parking and buying coffee—all before 9 a.m.
Change Is Frightening
We resist change, but fear of the unknown can result in clinging to status quo behaviors—no matter how bad they are.
Strategy: Examine the consequences
Compare all possible consequences of both your status quo and desired behaviors. If there are more positive results associated with the new behavior, your fears of the unknown are unwarranted.
If he didn't become more punctual, the next thing he'd be late for is the unemployment office. There was definitely a greater benefit to changing than to not changing.
Strategy: Prepare your observers
New behaviors can frighten the people observing them, so introduce them slowly.
Becoming timely overnight would make co-workers suspicious. He started arriving by 9 a.m. only on important days.
Strategy: Be realistic
Unrealistic goals increase fear. Fear increases the probability of failure.
Mornings found him sluggish, so he began preparing the night before and doubled his morning time.
Change Must Be Positive
As B.F. Skinner's early research demonstrates, reinforcement-not punishment-is necessary for permanent change. Reinforcement can be intrinsic, extrinsic or extraneous. According to Carol Sansone, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah, one type of reinforcement must be present for self-change, two would be better than one, and three would be best.
Strategy: Enjoy the act
Intrinsic reinforcement occurs when the act is reinforcing.
He loved dressing well. Seeing his clothes laid out at night was a joyful experience.
Strategy: Admire the outcome
An act doesn't have to be enjoyable when the end result is extrinsically reinforcing. For instance, I hate cleaning my kitchen, but I do it because I like the sight of a clean kitchen.
After dressing, he looked in the mirror and enjoyed the payoff from his evening preparation: He looked impeccable.
Strategy: Reward yourself
Extraneous reinforcement isn't directly connected to the act or its completion. A worker may despise his manufacturing job but will continue working for a good paycheck.
Whenever he met his target, he put $20 into his Hawaii vacation fund.
Being Is Easier Than Becoming
In my karate class of 20 students, the instructor yelled, "No pain, no gain," amid grueling instructions. After four weeks, only three students remained. Uncomfortable change becomes punishing, and rational people don't continue activities that are more painful than they are rewarding.
Strategy: Take baby steps
In one San Francisco State University study, researchers found that participants were more successful when their goals were gradually approximated. Write down the behavior you want to change. Then to the right, write your goal. Draw four lines between the two and write a progressive step on each that takes you closer to your goal.
The first week, he would arrive by 9:20 a.m., then five minutes earlier each subsequent week until he achieved his goal.
Strategy: Simplify the process
Methods of changing are often unnecessarily complicated and frenetic. Through simplicity, clarity arises.
Instead of waiting in line at Starbucks, he would buy coffee in his office building.
Strategy: Prepare for problems
Perfect worlds don't exist, and neither do perfect learning situations. Pamela Dunston, Ph.D., of Clemson University, found cueing to be an effective strategy.
His alarm clock failed to rouse him, so for the first month he'd use a telephone wake-up service.
Slower Is Better
Everything has its own natural speed; when altered, unpleasant things happen. Change is most effective when it occurs slowly, allowing behaviors to become automatic.
Strategy: Establish calm
Life is like a stirred-up lake: Allow it to calm and the mud will settle, clearing the water. The same is true for change.
To make mornings less harried, he no longer ran errands on his way to work.
Strategy: Appreciate the path
Author Ursula LeGuin once said, "It's good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." Don't devise an arduous path; it should be as rewarding as the goal.
He enjoyed almost everything involved in being punctual. The coffee could be better, but it was a small price to pay.
Know More, Do Better
Surprise spells disaster for people seeking change. Knowing more about the process allows more control over it.
Strategy: Monitor your behaviors
Some therapists insist on awareness of both current and desired behaviors, but research suggests it's sufficient to be aware of just the new one.
In a journal, he recorded the time taken for each step of work preparation.
Strategy: Request feedback
A study in the British Journal of Psychology found that reflecting on personal experiences with others is key to successful change. But because complimenting new behavior implies that the observer disliked the old one, it can make observers feel uncomfortable. If, for example, you were once demeaning to people, few would now say, "It's nice talking with you since you stopped being a jerk." Give the observer permission, suggests Paul Schutz, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia, and you will receive feedback.
Every Friday he asked a friend how well he was doing with his time problem.
Strategy: Understand the outcome
Success is satisfying, and if you know why you succeeded or failed, similar strategies can be applied when changing other behaviors.
Every morning, he analyzed why he did or did not arrive to work on time.
Change Requires Structure
Many people view structure as restrictive, something that inhibits spontaneity. While spontaneity is wonderful for some activities, it's a surefire method for sabotaging change.
Strategy: Identify what works
Classify all activities and materials you're using as either helpful, neutral or unhelpful in achieving your goal. Eliminate unhelpful ones, make neutrals into positives and keep or increase the positives.
After evaluating his morning routine, he replaced time-consuming breakfasts with quick protein drinks.
Strategy: Revisit your plan regularly
Review every day how and why you're changing and the consequences of success and failure. Research by Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, showed that repetition increases the probability of success.
Each night he reviewed his plan, smiled and said, "Hawaii, here I come."
Strategy: Logically sequence events
According to behavior expert Richard Foxx, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Penn State University at Harrisburg, it's important to sequence the aspects associated with learning a new behavior in order of level of difficulty or timing.
He completed all bathroom activities, then ate breakfast.
Practice Is Necessary
Practice is another key approach to change, suggests one study on changing conscious experience published recently in the British Journal of Psychology. I've found that the majority of failures occur because this principle is ignored. Practice makes new behaviors automatic and a natural part of who we are.
Strategy: Use helpers
Not all behaviors can be learned on your own. Sometimes it's useful to enlist the help of a trusted friend.
When even the telephone answering service failed to wake him up, he asked his secretary to call.
Strategy: Practice in many settings
If you want to use a new behavior in different environments, practice it in those or similar settings. Dubbing this "generalization," psychologists T.F. Stokes and D.M. Baer found it critical in maintaining new behaviors.
During the first week he would try to be punctual for work. The following week, he would try to be on time for his regularly scheduled tennis game.
New Behaviors Must Be Protected
Even when flawlessly performed, new behaviors are fragile and disappear if unprotected.
Strategy: Control your environment
Environmental issues such as noise and level of alertness may interfere with learning new behaviors. After identifying what helps and what hinders, increase the helpers and eliminate the rest.
Having a nightcap before bed made it difficult to wake up in the morning, so he avoided alcohol after 7 p.m.
Strategy: Use memory aides
Because a new behavior is neither familiar nor automatic, it's easy to forget. Anything that helps memory is beneficial.
He kept a list in each room of his apartment describing the sequence of things to be done and the maximum allowable time to complete them.
Small Successes Are Big
Unfortunately, plans for big successes often result in big failures. Focus instead on a series of small successes. Each little success builds your reservoir of self-esteem; one big failure devastates it.
Strategy: Map your success
Approach each step as a separate mission and you'll eventually arrive at the end goal.
For each morning activity he completed within his self-allotted time limit, he rewarded himself by putting money into his Hawaii-getaway fund.
The process of changing from what you are to what you would like to become can be either arduous and frustrating or easy and rewarding. The effort required for both paths is the same. Choose the first and you'll probably recycle yourself endlessly. Apply my 10 principles, and change, once only a slight possibility, becomes an absolute certainty. The choice is yours.
Stan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a private speech therapist (www.speechstrategies.com), a change consultant and the author of four books on change.
We tend to enjoy change that we can consciously control, buying new clothes or a home renovation for example. However, change that is forced upon us is often unwelcomed and is likely to leave a sour taste between those imposing change and those that change is affecting.Why are people resistant to change psychology? ›
Our inertia works against us in achieving our goals
Inertia, or “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged,” is at the headwinds of any change that we make in our lives. It helps to describe why our bodies tend to act against us when we try to begin a new diet or an exercise routine.
Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Psychologists are actively involved in studying and understanding mental processes, brain functions, and behavior.What is the old saying about change? ›
"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." "Change before you have to." “Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” “A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.”What are the 5 stages of change? ›
Five stages of change have been conceptualized for a variety of problem behaviors. The five stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future.Why do I struggle with change so much? ›
Change and Your Mental Health
Negative thoughts and feelings can lead to greater stress. Even positive change can be upsetting to some. This is because a once-comfortable way of life will soon look different. You're put out of your comfort zone, which makes it harder to deal with change.
Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they've lost control over their territory. It's not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else.What causes people to not change? ›
If you have trouble getting people to change, perhaps one—or more—of the following reasons are to blame: They don't want to change … they find reassurance in the status quo. Their environment is holding them back. They've tried to change in the past, failed, and have given up.What are the 4 of psychology? ›
The four goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and control behavior and mental processes.What are the four psychological needs? ›
There are four basic needs: The need for Attachment; the need for Control/Orientation; the need for Pleasure/Avoidance of Pain; and the need for Self-Enhancement.
The five major perspectives in psychology are biological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive and humanistic.What did Mark Twain say about change? ›
In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.What did Winston Churchill say about change? ›
'To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often' - Practice Continuous Improvement.What are the 4 typical stages of change? ›
When change is first introduced at work, the people affected will typically go through four stages. These can be visualised on the change curve. The stages are shock, anger, acceptance and commitment.What are the six phases of change? ›
The TTM posits that individuals move through six stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.What are the 7 C of change management? ›
The Social Change Model of Leadership based on seven dimensions, or values, called the “Seven C's”: consciousness of self, congruence, commitment, common purpose, controversy with civility, collaboration, and citizenship. All seven values work together to accomplish the transcendent “C” of change.Who created the 5 stages of change? ›
Prochaska has found that people who have successfully made positive change in their lives go through five specific stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.What are the 3 C's of Change? ›
The three-C principle can help you overcome this change management challenge. Managers should ensure the changes they are communicating are clear, compelling, and credible.What is it called when you can't handle change? ›
Adjustment Disorder (Stress Response Syndrome)What disorder is afraid of change? ›
Fear of change is so prevalent, there's even a phobia about it: metathesiophobia. Everyone experiences fear of change noted Dr. Susan Biali in Psychology Today. Change, even positive change, always causes stress.
Change, whether it's positive or negative, can create stress that affects both your physical and mental well-being. Sometimes this can even lead to unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, sadness, and headaches. This is why you might find yourself struggling even after a positive change has happened in your life.Why are people afraid of change? ›
Confusion. People fear change if they don't understand the reason for it – and then they resist it. Change causes uncertainty and means pushing people out of their comfort zones. However much we might complain about them, it's our 'routines' that make us feel secure.What stops us from change? ›
Fear of discomfort, pain or effort all stop us from changing. These fears prevent us from exercising, as it may hurt, from eating healthy, from changing career or starting our own business, from embarking on a new relationship, or leaving behind an old or negative one.What makes a person change completely? ›
People can change when they're self-aware, receive support, and become intentional about behaving differently. But, change takes time and it may be challenging in some cases. For example, if you live with a mental health condition that involves lifelong symptoms that may impact your attitude, habits, and behaviors.What makes a person change so much? ›
So what causes people to change? People change when motivated by a sense of independence, a sense of competence, and a sense of connection to others. These motivations can be sparked in moments of extreme frustration when a person realizes their current approach is no longer working.How does change affect a person psychologically? ›
When a major life change happens, your brain automatically sees it as negative. This can influence your decision-making process and increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Learning the right techniques to deal with new or unexpected situations will benefit your mental health.What is a good saying about change? ›
"I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better." — Georg C. Lichtenberg. "There is nothing permanent except change." — Heraclitus. "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." — Mother Teresa.What happens to the brain during change? ›
When a person's social environment changes, it challenges his sense of stability (or more specifically, his brain's). If the brain decides the change is, in fact, threatening, then it will resist or avoid the change as much as possible—“fight or flight” mode as it's often called.Why do people struggle with change? ›
Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they've lost control over their territory. It's not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else.Why are life changes so hard? ›
Furthermore, change, for whatever reason, is unavoidably difficult. This is due to the fact that humans are hardwired to resist change. Our brain perceives change as a threat. Because of this, it activates our system's fight or flight response.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr.What age does the brain change the most? ›
In the early years of life, the brain forms more than a million new neural connections every second. By the age of 6, the size of the brain increases to about 90% of its volume in adulthood. Then, in our 30s and 40s, the brain starts to shrink, with the shrinkage rate increasing even more by age 60.What age does the brain stop changing? ›
2. The brain continues to mature even after it is done growing. Though the brain may be done growing in size, it does not finish developing and maturing until the mid- to late 20s. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature.Why do I resist good habits? ›
When we resist change, it is often because we are in a rut of sorts. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proven that we repeat certain behaviors because our brain is in a rut of sorts. Because of this, it is often very difficult for us to change our behavior.