Unlocking Behavioral Change With The Theoretical Approach

The only thing between WHO YOU ARE NOW and WHO YOU WANT TO BE TOMORROW is BEHAVIORAL CHANGE.

Why can’t the alcoholic realize how much his behavior is ruining his life? 
How hard can it possibly be to stop smoking?

If you don’t have any of these toxic habits, you’ve probably asked yourself these two questions on numerous occasions. However, I’ve come to realize, from both personal and professional experience, how very challenging behavioral change really is. Unfortunately, looking in from the outside makes it quite easy to judge. But, your judgments and opinions certainly do not help the situation. In fact, they often make things much worse. If you really want to support someone who is suffering from a toxic habit, what you do need is a whole lot of education, encouragement and empathy. That’s exactly why I want you to really understand the theoretical approach to behavioral change. Keep reading and I’ll convince you why this theory is fundamental.

“There is nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.” – John Connolly.

Why is the theoretical approach of behavioral change even important?

Most of us are, or know someone who is currently struggling with behavioral change. The theoretical approach to behavioral change is one of the most useful models relating to behavioral changes.

In fact, this model will truly help you to develop a thorough understanding of the process of change so that you can implement tailored strategies to increase your possibility of success.

Think about how physically or mentally challenging it has been for you to make a change in any area of your life.  After learning the theoretical model of behavioral change, you’ll realize that, regardless of how big or small, change is a process and is often a very hard and bumpy one.

However, if you stay committed to the process, you’ll likely reap the most amazing rewards.

If you’re reading this and are desirous of change, the good news is that you’re already on your journey so now you only have to keep going. Change may be challenging but regret is much, much harder.

Since change will definitely happen, we should make a calculated, premeditated effort to ensure that the outcome is as positive as possible.

Can everyone change?

I really believe that everyone, with time, preparation, and the correct resources, can change. However, the most important aspects to achieve that change are vision, motivation and a personal unwavering desire for change.

Are you willing to make a deliberate effort to change? Have you identified your WHY, i.e., your motivation for change? Although behavioral change is complex, you can do it. Just take it one day at a time and remember to celebrate even the little victories.

Use the transtheoretical model of behavioral change to quit your unhealthy habits
“Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change.” - Jim Rohn
Stage of Transtheoretical ModelCharacteristics Activities to Progress
1- PrecontemplationDenial, unawareness

No desire for change
Education

Consciousness raising
2- ContemplationUncertainty, confusion

Realizes problem exists

Starts desiring change; no commitment
Self evaluation

Identify barriers

Address concerns
3- PreparationRealization that change is important

Takes first steps

Extends to first month of change
Self commitment

Social liberation

Set SMART goals
4- ActionPlan in action

Extends from 1-6 months of change
Social support

Substitute with healthy behavior (counter-conditioning)

Control Stimulus
5- MaintenanceOld behavior replaced

After 6 months of change
Positive reinforcement

Control Stimulus

Remain motivated
6- Relapse / TerminationDisappointment if relapseEncouragement, support

Stages of the theoretical approach to behavioral change

Now let’s discover the 6 stages of behavioral change that most of you will likely go through. It’s important to note that before completely eliminating a toxic habit, people will recycle through these stages several times.

Stage 1 of the theoretical approach

Precontemplation: “I don’t have a problem.”

In this first stage of the theoretical approach to behavioral change, you’re still in denial and there is no actual intention to change.

Consequently, you are completely reluctant to behavioral change, don’t want to be told what to do, are overwhelmed by the mere thought of change, or have convinced yourself of the benefits of continuing that habit.

Additionally, you may also have decided to give up after previous unsuccessful attempts.  However, even though you’re trying to avoid it, you may sense that external sources such as family, friends, and/or media are pressuring you to change.

Stage 2 of the theoretical approach

Contemplation: “Maybe I have a problem”

In the Contemplation stage, you actually realize that you have a problem and start talking and desiring change. However, although there is increased awareness; there is no action plan in place.

Notably, many persons, due to confusion and uncertainty spend the most time at this stage and it is often the most difficult.

Stage 3 of the theoretical approach

Preparation: “I’m going to change”

In the third stage of the theoretical approach to change, you realize that change is worth the effort. As such, you being to take steps towards change. This stage usually extends until the first month of deliberate effort to change the specific behavior.

Stage 4 of the theoretical approach

Action: “I’m changing”

You now have a plan that is fully in action and your adherence is likely making you experience significant change. It goes without saying that this stage often takes a lot of effort to stay committed.

However, you’re starting to get praise from those happy for your change and condemnation from the community involved in the lifestyle you’re trying to leave behind.

The Action Stage of the theoretical approach extends from the first to the sixth month of behavioral change.

Stage 5 of the theoretical approach

Maintenance: “I’m a new person”

Maintenance is often deemed the most important stage. After 6 months of initiating change, you’re now establishing a new behavior over an extended period. As such, you’re really realizing all that you were able to accomplish.

Stage 6 of the theoretical approach

Relapse or Termination: “I’m back to my old behavior”

Relapse or termination is the final stage of the theoretical approach to behavioral change and usually comes with many emotions particularly disappointment and feelings of failure if relapse occurs.

However, you need to realize that relapsing is common. As such, you should start again.

For most toxic habits, the possibility of relapse will always be evident, even though less intense with more time and effort. Unfortunately, those triggers and tests to get you back to your old ways may never completely disappear.

That’s why you need to be constantly aware of that possibility and have an evolving plan for success.

The transtheoretical model of behavioral change will help you change toxic habits
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”- Socrates

How long does it take to go through the stages of the theoretical approach to behavioral change?

There are numerous factors that influence how long behavioral change takes. These include, but are not limited to, the type and intensity of the habit itself, life circumstances, barriers and protective factors and you health situation.

According to Healthline (2019), it takes approximately 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.

However, in most cases I won’t recommend intense changes or abrupt withdrawals. These are often not sustainable. Further, going cold turkey (abrupt cessation) can cause numerous symptoms.

Remember, just as your mind, your body also needs to adapt to the change, especially if you had that habit for a prolonged period. So, don’t aim for success in a few days or even weeks. It can take several years.

Regardless, even if it takes a lifetime for you to confidently say that you’ve completely overcome a habit, your body will start reaping the benefits in a very short period.

Reasons why change efforts fail

Not being prepared/ready

Often, persons start the process of behavioral change without actually being fully prepared for the journey. This may be because of a sudden life event that increased their awareness of the need to change.

As such, with time, as the influence of the experience diminishes and, without the appropriate tools for the process, they may regrettably relapse.

Lack of knowledge of the process.

Many persons lack the essential knowledge, understanding and techniques required to progress through the stages of the theoretical approach to behavioral change.

Like anything, it’s important to do your research and use professional help when possible so that you’re fully aware of what to expect. If you do, you can subsequently think about strategies to overcome those hard days.

Lack motivation

Sometimes, it’s just that you don’t want the change bad enough and lack the motivation to stay committed to the challenges that will come with the journey.

You probably still underestimate the value of change and are finding considerable reasons to continue the habit.

Unrealistic expectation

A lot of persons have a different perception of how behavioral change occurs and revert to their old ways once things don’t go as expected.

Additionally, some persons may have been initially overconfident and become discouraged when they realize that change is harder than they anticipated.

Lack of support

The presence of social and professional support are important protective factors and help you stay energized and committed to change.

Strategies for progressing through the stages of the theoretical approach to behavioral change

For your success, it’s vital that you fully comprehend the initiatives you should take to stay on track. Notably, the same strategies will not always be applicable, and depending on your specific situation, some may likely be more beneficial than others.

Behavioral change starts with changing your mindset.
“Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty” -Jacob Bronowski

1.Get more informed about the process

Lots of persons never even get started because of uncertainty. As such, really understanding all the emotions and challenges you’ll go through will help you prepare for the journey.

Things will still not go exactly as planned but the knowledge will be valuable even for unanticipated struggles.

2.Consider all the advantages of changing

Increasing your knowledge of the advantage of change will help you realize the value of your effort and increase your chances of staying committed. Think about how this behavioral change may, directly and indirectly, improve your life.

3.Consider all the disadvantages of not changing

What will your life be like in the short and long term if you don’t decide to change? Will your habit worsen? What impact will it have on your personal and professional life?

These are important questions that you really need to consider since they will help provide you with the motivation you need to process through the stages of the theoretical approach.

4.Develop a written plan

A written plan is particularly useful in the latter stages of behavioral change and will make you really reinforce the commitment you made to yourself.

Having a goal is one thing but developing a approach to actually achieve that goal will vastly improve your chances of success. In fact, simply writing things down sets you apart from most and usually indicates that you’re even more resolute.

Further, it will be a much-needed reference for you to stay inspired and motivated. An additional tip is to always have a backup plan and alternatives. Moreover, sharing your plan with others may help you stay steadfast.

5.Identify Obstacles/barriers

Consider all the obstacles that you’ll possibly face at each stage of behavioral change. Identifying all your risks for failure and try to anticipate tactics to eliminate them. This strategy will help you identify what situations, individuals, and environments can trigger a relapse so that you take steps to avoid and/or eliminate them.

6.Get support

Whether it’s family, friends, or acquaintances, having someone to support you throughout the stages of behavioral change will help you stay dedicated.

Support groups, professional therapy, and even medicinal treatment should all be considered and are all beneficial alternatives. Start by stripping away self-righteousness and shame so that you can ask for the help you need.

7.Techniques and commitment strategies for success

How will you go about the change? What will be your rewards or penalties? It’s crucial to identify specific strategies that will likely help you succeed. For instance, some persons decide to have cheat days to keep themselves motivated.

However, if you do decide to have cheat days, ensure that they do not make a significant dent in your plan. Please note that this has a higher possibility of occurring if you really decide to splurge on these days.

8.Self-reflect

It’s important to reflect on your journey and truly recognize and appreciate both your successes and disappointments. Reflection will help you keep your plan current and give you the motivation to continue down your path.

Take the time to acknowledge all your efforts and dedication to change. Write down all your success stories so that they can be used to continually motivate you and others who may be on a similar path.

9.Replace the gratification associated with the habit

Fully explore all the reasons that you started and continued the toxic habit. For instance, do you smoke because it helps you to relax and has become a part of your day-to-day life? Do you do it as a means of socializing with your friends or to manage your emotions?

Is it because it helps you to control your weight and is readily available? You should be honest with yourself to clearly identify these reasons so that you can develop appropriate strategies to replace that need.

10.Bounce back and prepare for the next battle

Finally, know that relapse is possible even if significant time has passed. So always stay alert and focused and continue to avoid triggers as much as you can. Even if you do relapse, have a plan and strategy to bounce back.

Failed attempts do not mean that you are a failure. Do not be defined by them. Think positively and believe in yourself. Know that you’re not the only one.

If others have succeeded, then so can you. Be proud of the fact that you have tried and know that you can recover. Stay committed and stop robbing yourself-and the world- of a better you.

Final words on the theoretical approach to behavioral change

Fortunately, a lot of persons already realize that they have a toxic habit. As such, instead of constantly reminding them, the best thing you can do is to really understand the reasons for their behavior and becoming informed about the process of change. 

Increasing your knowledge will help you find ways to help them to progress through the stages of the theoretical approach to behavioral change.

I’ve just informed you of the process, challenges, and strategies to achieve behavioral change. Now it’s your chance to step forward and truly embrace change. You’re all set. Even if you stumble, remain self-disciplined and keep reaching for change.

Are you ready for change?

Take the quiz below to find if you’re really ready for change. Take this quiz to find out if you are ready for change

“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change”-Maya Angelou

Kindly note that although I highlight smoking as an example throughout this article, it is by far not the only toxic habit. Click here for a full list of toxic habits that affect your health and success.  

If you are a smoker, please don’t view this post as me being biased towards smoking.  

However, I was compelled to use this as an example because smoking remains the number one cause of preventable death and results in an excess of 7 million deaths annually.

Additionally, it decreases your life expectancy by at least 10 years and may cause significant morbidity and disability (CDC, 2020). As such, this is one habit that is at least worth every single effort it takes to change.

Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and commit to behavioral change?

Let me know what strategies you think are most helpful for behavioral change. If you haven’t done so already, share this post if you found it helpful.

Recommended product to help you track and maintain new habits

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we’re capable of change.”- Brene Brown

References:

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) Smoking and Tobacco Use.

Prochaska JO, DiClemente CC, Norcross JC. In search of how people change. Applications to addictive behaviors. Am Psychol. 1992 Sep;47(9):1102-14.

Scott Frothingham (2019) How long does it take for a new behavior to become automatic? 

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