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Change, Already 20-451488 2 Hours Back to Course Index

 

 

Change, Already.

change1

If we look at the statistics for individuals who stop smoking and then start again, lose weight and then gain it back, start an exercise plan and then quit, stop using drugs and then start again, stop playing on the internet and then start back up we are faced with the reality that no matter how logical a choice is, no matter how hard someone wants to make a change, no matter how clear the benefits to following through are: permanent change is hard, even possibly unnatural.

We set out with a logical thought process and we can do anything for a period of time.  For example, an individual can know they are going to lose their job and possibly their family over illegal drug use so they decide I don’t want the pain of losing these things.I am motivated to stop and stop they do, for a period of time, but as the threat decreases the fear and pain diminishes they frequently find themselves rationalizing that they have it under control now and “I can use on the weekends and everything will be ok”. The problem is that unless we find this new behavior better than the other one, unless it is easier, we frequently gravitate back to a more pleasurable/less painful existence.The truth of the matter is humans make decisions based on our emotions.It is how we feel more than what we know.

 

Elements of Change

Change might not come easily, but we as mental health professionals have developed effective ways to help people change their behavior.  Researchers have also proposed theories to explain how change occurs. Us better understanding the elements of change, the stages of change, and ways to work through each stage can allow us to help clients achieve their goals.

Three most important elements in changing a behavior:

  • Readiness to change: Do they have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
  • Barriers to change: Is there anything preventing them from changing?
  • Likelihood of relapse: What might trigger a return to a former behavior?

One of the best-known approaches to change is the Stages of Change or Transtheoretical Model, introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. They were studying ways to help people quit smoking.1 The Stages of Change model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behavior.

In this model, change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but they eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing a behavior. This model demonstrates that change is rarely easy. It often requires a gradual progression of small steps toward a goal.

Stage 1:  Precontemplation

Characteristics:  
Denial
Ignorance of the problem

Strategies:
Rethink behavior
Analyze actions
Assess risks of current behavior

Stage 2:  Contemplation

Characteristics:
Ambivalence
Conflicted emotions

Strategies:
Weigh pros ad cons of behavior change
Confirm readiness and ability to change
Identify barriers to change

Stage 3:  Preparation

Characteristics:
Experimenting with small changes
Collecting information about change

Strategies:

Write down goals
Prepare a plan of action
Make a list of motivations

Stage 4:  Action

Characterisitcs:
Direct action toward a goal

Strategies:
Reward successes
Seek out social support

Stage 5:  Maintenance

Characteristics:
Maintenance of the new behavior
Avoiding temptation

Strategies:
Develop coping strategies for temptation
Rewards

Stage 6:  Relapse

Characteristics:
Disappointment
Frustration
Feelings of failure

Strategies:
Identify triggers that lead to relapse
Recognize barriers to success
Reaffirm goas and committment to change

Pleasure Pain Principle  change2

Follow the Pleasure Principle. Whatever else he may have been wrong about, Sigmund Freud was right on the money when he said that people are motivated by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Unfortunately, we also have the ability to do things that bring pleasure now but are certain to cause a lot of pain later on. And were not always very good at putting off the small immediate pleasure in favor of a more significant one later on.  Instant gratification is just more fun than delayed gratification, at least at the moment.

           Instant versus Delayed Gratification

Humans seem to be wired to prioritize instant gratification.  This can frequently lead us astray from our ultimate goals.  

Human nature is embedded in an “immediate-return environment” inherited from earlier humans where survival and goals were daily concerns. Our worlds have only gotten faster with microwaves, DVRs, streaming, emails, texts, portals, fast food, etc.  You can order a pair of pants online and they can be delivered to your house in about three hours on Amazon now a days.  We live in an “on-demand” world.  These days, instant gratification works against us, not for us.

At the core of the obstacle to change is our wish to feel good and rewarded now which sabotages our success by driving us to neglect simple actions that have no immediate reward, these small actions even sometime feel bad.  Exercise might require waking up an hour earlier and might make us sore. It follows, therefore, that learning to delay gratification—in other words, accept that we won’t feel good until later but we need to complete small actions now regardless—will stop this obstacle in its tracks and lead to success.

Research confirms that the ability to delay gratification is a powerful tool for success. For example, in the 1960 Marshmallow Experiment (see below), researchers offered children the choice between eating one marshmallow immediately or waiting to eat the marshmallow and receiving a second marshmallow as a reward for their patience. Further researchers conducted follow-up studies on these children and found that the children who had the patience to wait (or to delay gratification) grew up to have less stress, better physical health, stronger ability to socialize, and higher test scores. The follow-ups continued for over 40 years, and consistently, the children who chose to delay gratification experienced greater success in their lives than the children who chose not to delay gratification. 

The Marshmallow Experiment
Stanford University

The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.

At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.

The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.

So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later.

The researcher left the room for 15 minutes.

As you can imagine, the footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.

Published in 1972, this popular study became known as The Marshmallow Experiment, but it wasn’t the treat that made it famous. The interesting part came years later.

The Power of Delayed Gratification

As the years rolled on and the children grew up, the researchers conducted follow up studies and tracked each child’s progress in a number of areas. What they found was surprising.

The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures. 

The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and over and over again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever capacity they were measuring. In other words, this series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life.

And if you look around, you’ll see this playing out everywhere…

    • If you delay the gratification of watching television and get your homework done now, then you’ll learn more and get better grades.
    • If you delay the gratification of buying desserts and chips at the store, then you’ll eat healthier when you get home.
    • If you delay the gratification of finishing your workout early and put in a few more reps, then you’ll be stronger.

… and countless other examples.

Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.

 

Researchers at the University of Rochester decided to replicate the marshmallow experiment, but with an important difference.  Expectation for reward is brought in as a factor.

Before offering the child the marshmallow, the researchers split the children into two groups.

The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave the child a small box of crayons and promised to bring a bigger one, but never did. Then the researcher gave the child a small sticker and promised to bring a better selection of stickers, but never did.

Meanwhile, the second group had very reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about the better stickers and then they received them.

You can imagine the impact these experiences had on the marshmallow test. The children in the unreliable group had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring a second marshmallow and thus they didn’t wait very long to eat the first one.

Meanwhile, the children in the second group were training their brains to see delayed gratification as a positive. Every time the researcher made a promise and then delivered on it, the child’s brain registered two things:

1) waiting for gratification is worth it and

2) I have the capability to wait. As a result, the second group waited an average of four times longer than the first group.

In other words, the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control was not a predetermined trait, but rather was impacted by the experiences and environment that surrounded them. In fact, the effects of the environment were almost instantaneous. Just a few minutes of reliable or unreliable experiences were enough to push the actions of each child in one direction or another.

Then if follows that when we believe the delayed gratification will result in a definate reward we are more inclined to push through…but wait…I know if I restrict my calories to 1200 and work out every day I will get thinner.  But.  I.  Do. Not.  Do.  It.  We are still missing something in this equation.  It is very valuable information to learn that the ability to delay gratification is not a predetermined trait, but it is also important to recognize motivation and will power is more than just about the outcome.

Our culture is so enamored with rags to riches stories that we too often buy into the illusion of instant success and fail to develop the discipline of applying real work to our goals. If you are looking for the instant gratification of a “ magic bullet” instead of looking to make steady progress, you will remain stuck in either inaction, desperately hoping for your big break or stuck in waiting for a magic fix that makes it easy. 

For example, consider the actress who seems to skyrocket to fame overnight. In reality, she took classes and workshops, performed in small theaters for years with no recognition, and had several failed auditions before “hitting the big time.” The media doesn’t share every part of her story, and as a result, others don’t understand the work that is necessary to achieve the success they want. Without being aware of the work necessary, aspiring “stars” either don’t put in the work, give up too soon, or both. 

Impulse control is an essential life skill. When it comes to achieving goals, delayed gratification is the skill that will likely make the difference.

The ability to delay gratification is a learned behavior in children – and adults, too, can train their brains to wait.  It is a matter of developing self-control.

Start Small

To orient behavior toward delayed gratification, an individual should start small. An individual can create a goal so easy they can’t refuse it, like waiting three minutes before eating dessert or walk around the block, NOT the neighborhood.  Something that takes maybe 4 or 5 minutes. Next time, improve by one percent – or in this case, you can improve by 33% and wait for four minutes for that dessert. Incremental progress lets the individual build confidence with each small goal they achieve.

 

Make Rules

An individual can also use delayed gratification as a “rule” for certain parts of their life where they may lack self control. If they are a shopaholic, they might make a rule that they must wait three days – or a week – to buy that jacket they saw when walking through the mall. Or, make a rule that if you’ve spent more than five minutes debating a purchase, you don’t make it.  Perhaps, they buy what is on the list only.  If something cathes their eye they have to wait 24 hours.

 

Remember Goals

What is delayed gratification for if not the ability to reach the biggest goals? They’re putting off that purchase to save for a home or retirement, and they’re having salad instead of that burger so that they can achieve health and have more energy.  If an indivdiual keeps a picture of their goal in their mind it will make delayed gratification that much easier.

 

Definitive Time Frames

The vague goal of ‘trying harder’ will never work for most.  Instead, this means setting realistic deadlines and committing to them.

The right time frame will vary depending on the length of time required to achieve the goal.

 

 

 

Habit

Habits are like taking the beaten path: they require little effort, and with the passage of time they grow stronger and stronger. This is despite our knowledge of the beneficial effects of constructive habits, such as healthy eating and exercise, on our well-being, self-esteem and overall quality of life.

Habits are rituals and behaviors that we perform just about automatically.  They allowing us to carry out essential activities such as brushing our teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed for work, and following the same routes every day without thinking about them. Our unconscious habits free up resources for our brains to carry out other more complex tasks like solving problems or deciding what to make for dinner.

We all have habits and we activate hundreds every day. These habits can be divided into three groups. The first group are the habits that we simply don’t notice because they have been part of our lives forever—like tying shoelaces or brushing teeth. The second are habits that are good for us and which we work hard on establishing—like exercising, eating well or getting enough sleep. The final group are the habits that are bad for us—like smoking, procrastinating or checking our phones 500 times a day. 

Scientists have learned that a certain part of the brain called the basal ganglia plays a crucial role in creating new habits and maintaining existing ones, leading researchers to an understanding of why some people, even after major brain damage, will still do certain things they’ve always done before, like find their way home without any conscious previous recollection of where they are going. These people often don’t even know how or why they can still do certain things, but if the basal ganglia is intact, those old habits are still available. The latest research also shows that habits are so ingrained in our brains that we keep acting in accordance with them even when we no longer benefit from them.

Researchers from Duke University have shown that over 40% of what we do is determined not by decisions but by habits. This suggests that we can change a huge part of our lives just by eliminating bad habits and creating good ones instead. Easy right?  Wrong.  It is possible though.

When someone creates a habit, the brain creates new neurological pathways allowing them to more easily use those habits.  But why do people return to their old habits so often? It’s because the neural pathways established as a result of the habits we develop never get deleted. Those pathways are always there for us in case we need to go back and use those same routes again. Of course, this helps us in the many simple and automatic daily tasks we carry out such as walking, talking, running, and eating.  Most of us don’t need to stop and think about how to walk before we get up and do it.  Since those existing pathways never get erased, the best way to change existing habits is to replace them with new ones.

That habits become deeply ingrained in our brains means that even if a particular habit creates more problems than it solves, it can be difficult to break. Understanding how habits take shape to begin with may be helpful in dismantling and replacing them.

A “habit loop” is a way of describing several related elements that produce habits. These elements have been called the cue (or trigger), the routine (or behavior), and the reward. For example, stress could serve as a cue that one responds to by eating, smoking, or drinking, which produces the reward (the reduction of stress—at least temporarily). The “habit loop” concept was popularized by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit.

A person may not be fully aware of how their habit works—habits are built to make things happen without us having to think much about them. Consciously intervening in one’s own habitual behavior likely won’t come naturally, so breaking a habit can require some consideration and effort.

Consider the context and dynamics that lead to habits. Building healthy habits can an involve individual putting themselves in situations in which they are more likely to engage in the desired behavior, planning to repeat the behavior, and attaching a small reward to the behavior that doesn’t impede it such as by watching TV or listening to music while exercising or making plans to get a cup of coffee with a sponsor after an AA meeting once a month.

The amount of time needed to build a habit will depend on multiple factors, including the individual and the intended behavior. While someone might be able to pick up a new habit in a matter of weeks, some research indicates that building healthy habits can also take many months.

 

Postitive Intention

Almost all, if not all behavior, positive or negative, has a positive intention.  Sometimes it is not so clear what that positive intention is, but underneath the layers it is there. This Pleasure Principle, where people are driven to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, is suggesting we are willing to do things that will bring us pleasure and we are unwilling to do things that will cause us pain, at least for very long and this guides us in virtually everything we do, how we think about everything, whether we are aware of it or not.

It seems however that the two forces are out of balance. The avoidance of pain often wins over the desire to seek pleasure. Perhaps in the case of physical pain this seems logical, at least to a certain extent. But in most cases we’re not talking about physical pain. Most often people choose to do things, or rather not to do certain things, in order to avoid emotional pain. Some people go even further and simply state that people avoid pain, they don’t seek pleasure. People may know very well that in order to achieve certain results they desire, something needs to be done. They may even have a high degree of certainty that doing that something will indeed produce the desired result. But if that something makes them feel bad or even slightly uncomfortable, they’re out. Of course logically this doesn’t make any sense. Rationally we know that we can get to C if we just put A and B together. But the fact is: we are not as rational as we sometimes claim to be. Human beings are mainly emotional creatures. We take decisions emotionally and then we try to back them up with logic.

As stated, most people would agree that the drive to avoid pain is stronger than the drive to seek pleasure. One of the reasons why this drive is this strong is because it is built into our biological survival system. Physical pain will cause people to automatically withdraw from what they perceive to be the source of their pain. Rationally we know that physical and emotional pain are not the same, but since the human brain has difficulty distinguishing real pain from perceived pain, most people react to it in exactly the same way.

If you decide you want to eliminate complaining from your life, just link pain to it. Realize that it’s not outside events that make you feel bad. It’s your attitude towards them, like complaining. Associate complaining with feeling bad. Then think of and really picture in your mind how people will enjoy being around you more if you don’t complain, and how much more fun you will have.

One technique is to ask yourself  “where will I be 10 years from now?”Our logical thinking should be used to processing information in this way. It isn’t used to drive us in the direction we want to take though. That’s where emotions come in (and it’s also why we *feel* hungry, and not just think hungry.  Otherwise, we might end up starving to death without having the motivation to eat!)

One step further we can lift a car off our child

in a fit of adrenaline, but I am not going to

stand there and hold it forever!

supermom

 

Why do people revert back to negative behaviors when they are seeking pleasure and/or avoiding pain?  If someone knows that they are happier addiction free, or whatever the behavior is, why don’t they maintain the new behaviors?

How many clients or friends, for that matter, do you know who really want to be unhealthy and overweight, or easily angered, or chained to smoking?  Who wouldn’t prefer to look better, feel better, live free from addiction, with a peaceful family life or be as healthy as possible? When someone isn’t motivated to make those permanent changes, the problem is probably not that they aren’t ready or willing to enjoy the obvious benefits of the change. If things were as simple as that, they would make those changes in a minute and more importantly never go back, especially after tasting the new life.  But people do go back, over and over and over again. That is the madness that needs to stop.  Changing for a little while seems very possible, but changing permanently seems like an unnatural effort.

Part of the problem is again going back to the idea that every behavior has a positive intention and that the individual is “benefiting”, in some way, from the way they are doing things now.  Euphoria is a pleasant experience for most people.  Living a sober, healthy life has merit too, but it is not exactly the thrill ride euphoria brings.


change tree

The idea is to find the path of least resistance with the most pleasurable outcome and to continue to reinforce this, reinforce this, reinforce this and allow it to become self reinforcing until eventually the new behavior is the natural state.  Not easy.

 

 

Moving People To Change

assistance please

An individual is not going to change their behavior unless and until they want to change it, and is ready and willing to do what has to be done. The desire and readiness have to come from inside.  Also, the continued effort must be worth it.  It is easier to sit on the couch than to run on the treadmill no matter how good you feel afterward.  It is easier to escape life through alcohol than improve life through self-reflection, change and therapy.  

As stated before most the time when an individual tries to change they focus on the logical thinking, for a while, but we gravitate back because again we make decisions based on our emotions.

Even the best therapist can’t provide someone with a good reason to make a change, they can’t persuade them to do it by the sheer brilliance of their logic and persuasive techniques, and their family and/or friends can’t convince them by the persistence of their nagging, suggestions, bribes, threats, predictions of disaster, or other manipulative devices.

domebangIf logic doesn’t work, many times we try to move people into action by getting them to focus on the pleasure they can get when they reach success. Although this can be very successful, there are many times when your client just doesn’t seem to get excited about the potential rewards. You may have banged your head against the wall a couple of times. Perhaps you have mentally labeled this individual as one of those poor unfortunate folks that just don’t get it. After all, some people that aren’t the least bit interested in improving the quality of their life. Granted, over time you probably will run into a couple of those, especially in court ordered work, but the majority of people you meet will not fall into that category. Most people really do want a better quality of life; free from addiction, healthy, they want more free time, more money, more respect and more success.
Sometimes what is holding them back is fear. They fear change and associate pain with taking the necessary actions to make it happen. Obviously, they perceive taking action as more painful than staying where they’re at right now. And thus, they choose not to take the necessary actions.

A professionals best chance for helping someone to make desirable changes is to:

  • Help them find ways to make the new behavior the easiest one
  • Find out what the pay off for the unhealthy behaviors now
  • Help them find ways they can get those or similar pleasurable outcomes without paying the price associated with the old behavior
  • Increase the pain associated with the old behavior
Clients need to move to an awareness that it is their perception that taking action is painful or that the new behavior isn’t as pleasurable and this needs to shift.When did they learn this?Can they relearn it?Then help them associate more of the discomfort, pain, and fear they are already feeling toward by not taking action towards this inaction and continue this up to the point where taking action becomes the only alternative. Then just strap on your seat belts and watch ’em go.But again, unless this is reinforced, they will likely stop.

 

Stick-with-it-ness

stick to it

 

Simply associating pleasure with the desired outcome, and massive pain with sticking to the same old routine can be motivating, but then what?

Let’s think of emotions as just addictive brain chemicals. The more emotion attached to something the harder we work for it or to go back to it.  If someone gives up chocolate chip cookies, but chocolate chip cookies were the way they would reminisce about meeting their mom after school and telling her about their day while eating homemade cookies together, they might need to find a way to get that warm fuzzy some other way.
I had a friend who decided she was drinking too much alcohol and too frequently.  She and her husband would get their young children in bed each night and open a bottle and sit together on the couch with the lights dimmed and talk about their day.  Well, over time the bottle turned into two and this was simply more than she was comfortable with.  However, she quickly found that it had become the period to her day and an overall good feeling.  She changed the drink to sparkling water and used the same type of glass, continued to dim the lights and meet up with her husband and did just fine. Sticking to a plan of not having that time in the evening, or having it without some kind of special drink would have been difficult to stick with. 

To put this another way, the individual must make sure they get any secondary payoffs handled.  There is always some benefits from the current behavior.  The trick is to figure out how to get the benefit in a different way.  

When someone “isn’t motivated” to lose weight, for example, the problem is probably not that they are not ready or willing to enjoy the obvious benefits of healthy eating and exercise.  If things were as simple as that, they’d make those changes in a minute.

More likely, the problem is that, knowingly or not, they are “benefiting” (in some way) from the way they are doing things now, and they aren’t sure they will get those same benefits if they makes big changes in their life. Your best chance for motivating them to make desirable changes is to find out what they are getting out of their unhealthy behaviors now, and what you can do to help them get those same things without paying the price of obesity, inactivity, and higher health risks.

To help our clients stay motivated, in addition to helping them attach pleasure to continuing and pain to stopping, we can offer the following techniques to help with motivation:

 

  • Visualize, down to the most minute detail
  • Make a list of the reasons the goals is important
  • Break the new behavior down into smaller behaviors
  • Have a plan, but be prepared to change course
  • Enlist support for the new behavior
  • Determine how failing motivation will be handled in advance
  • Continually check in with the reasons for carrying on

Some of the barriers to making a successful change can be found in our beliefs, low levels of self-regulation and the complexity of the change process itself.  For example, whether we have a fixed or flexible mindset can determine how much effort we would invest in making a change happen and how quickly we would give up when experiencing a set back.

Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their capacities are innate, whilst those with a flexible one trust that their present achievements are the result of effort rather than genes. Furthermore, given that recent research equates our self-regulation, or willpower, with a muscle, it is no wonder that a hard day at work can deplete it, resulting in us giving up on our best intentions.

What is more, we need to be aware that any change process has to go through a number of changes if we are to hope for a successful outcome.

Perhaps it can be helpful to approach change not from the perspective of difficulty, but rather from the perspective of capitalising on what an individual has, using their strengths and activating positive experiences. This is a Postive Psychology approach of using well-researched interventions associated with flourishing and well-being.

Positive Psychology Techniques:

Positive Reminiscing
Bring to mind all successful experiences of exercising from the past. Just let the images come to your memory, try seeing them as vividly as you can.


Savouring
Being fully immersed in, attending to and appreciating the current experience. How often we mindlessly swallow our breakfast, our even run on an exercise machine while thinking of something else. Savouring requires us to fully engage with what we are doing, focusing on what we find most enjoyable.

 

Increasing Hope
Hope, or a belief in a possible beneficial outcome, can be activated by visualising the best possible self over a period of time. Visualizing what their life will look like, be like, how the change will benefit them.  Make it real.  Make it detailed.  They should experience it as realistically as they can.

Vividly imagining the best outcome for the course of several weeks is likely to increase hope, which is a primary source of positive affect and psycho-physiological arousal and is a strong emotional driver of intentional change.

 

Using Your Strengths

Using our strengths is something that generally comes effortlessly to us, when we do what we are good at, we feel authentic and energised. Let’s consider how our strengths can be harnessed in the service of our intended changes.

 

Help Is On The Way

When interacting with clients, do more listening than talking. We all do this as counselors anyway, right?  Remember, your job is not to persuade, correct, or preach. Many people who are stuck in unhealthy behaviors already know what is wrong and likely what they need to change. What they don’t know, they can easily find out when they’re ready to use the information. Most people even know, more or less, when they’re denying the obvious, inventing rationalizations, coming up with excuses, only seeing the problems, and ignoring the opportunities. But arguing with a client, friend or loved one about these things just makes it that much harder for them to start talking about the real issues. In fact, people are far more likely to talk themselves out of these unhelpful thoughts than to be talked out of them by someone else. Your job is to listen, affirm, “Yes, that is a problem for a lot of people”, and, “Well,what solutions can you think of for this?” and help them identify solutions.

As I mentioned earlier, the real reason people hold back from change is usually fear of losing something important or exposing themselves to danger. That something important can be anything from the simple pleasure of doing something they enjoy (like eating a bag of chips while sitting on the couch and watching TV) to some deep psychological need to continue smoking because Dad smoked and this provides an important feeling of emotional connection with family.

Whatever the reasons are, change isn’t likely to happen until he or she feels like they have some other realistic options for meeting these needs and desires.

In addition to replacing the means to the pay off, the ideal solution is to make doing the right thing as easy and pleasurable as possible. That will always work better than preaching the evils of instant gratification, glorifying the virtues of delayed gratification or heroic self-discipline, and striking fear into the hearts of potential junk food eaters, marital cheaters and drug addicts.

If your client is a 15 year old video game addict, with angry parents that have really, really had enough, rather than negotiating the limits and rules his parents are threatening, start by finding something he likes to do, and suggest the parents offer to do it with him. You get the idea.

New behaviors are created over time through small changes.  Have clients come up with tiny strategies to work toward.  Instead of beginning with running one mile, four mornings a week; have then start by putting on their shoes each morning; then walking, then walk/run and so on.  The goal is to build up through pleasure while reducing the pain.  It can also be very helpful to anchor the new tiny behavior to an old, solid one that is routine behavior.  So instead of putting on your jogging shoes once a day, put the shoes on right after you turn your alarm off in the morning.  It becomes attached to the habit already anchored in place.  Then celebrate every success.  Each time those shoes go on give yourself an atta boy!  The celebration acts as glue for the behavior.  It teaches the brain, over time that alarm goes off, shoes go on, I’m happy.

 

Summary

Whether your client wants to read more poetry, do more sit ups, or spend less money, when they make the decision, with excitement and rationale, the trick is in following through.  Well, the trick is in following through for more than a day or two.  Whether you adhere to the 21 days to a new habit, the 6 weeks for a new habit to become habit, or neither, all new behaviors must satisfy the benefits of the old habit, best when relatively easy and must be reinforced.

Seeking “good” feelings can be a powerful motivator for both good behaviors and negative ones.  Avoiding pain is also very motivational.  Rewards must be consistant to produce continued change.  Self-control, impulse control, delayed gratification, they all play a part but it seems overall the none of these wrungs on the ladder hold up without habit.  What an individual commits to habit becomes just that…no longer a decision to make over and over.  It gets tiring making a good decision over and over.  I don’t decide to if a shower is feels good or doesn’t.  I don’t decide if the reward for it is worth it or not.  It is simly is part of getting ready.  I just do it because I do.  This is the building of a good habit.  They breaking down of a bad habit is best acheived through the building of a different better habit.  There is an old saying that goes something like, “it isn’t easy, it’s worth it”.  I might suggest we alter that to make whatever is worth it as easy as possible.