Successful Behavior Change: Part 1
Why look at changing behaviors? If you are starting a new diet, quitting smoking, wanting to exercise or make any new lifestyle change, you need to know what to do, to make the change a successful one for you.
All behavioral change is affected by
How you think about the changes
What you do when you are feeling vulnerable
How you currently cope with emotions and stress.
Often, we find that we are doing well with new changes, like diet, only to find that we quickly slip back into old habits. This is not because you are doing something wrong, or did not try hard enough, it is just how your brain works! These are the things that I can help you with.
What you need to do is
Work with your thought processes –
that simply means, find out what is happening in your mind, looking for possible patterns of thoughts that may work against you achieving your goals, and show you how to change these.
Looking at your thoughts will help you to manage what we call “vulnerability factors” – stress etc, as when under pressure, we quickly slip back into our old habitual ways, such as comfort eating, not going for a walk, or having a smoke.
Looking at how you think about things will show you what is going on when you eat, smoke or or whatever it is you want to change – if it is functional (when you are hungry) or if you crave certain things – whether some of the food intake or smoking is to help you cope with certain emotions.
Goal setting – we also need to ensure that you are setting goals that maximize success for you.
I am going to look at changing behaviors, as a series of posts.
In this first post you will learn about “thoughts.” The upcoming posts will deal with managing stress, and finding out about deeply held beliefs you may have, that work against the changes you are trying to make. You shall also be learning about “habits” and how your brain works with habits.
In this first post, Part 1 of Changing Habits and Behaviors, we are going to start to work with your thought processes, to help you to identify when you are feeling vulnerable.
It will also help you to see, what emotions seem to relate to you eating things that you do not want to eat, smoking when you do not want to, or anything that works against the change you are trying to make.
You will also see how you make some “mistakes” in your thinking, (not just you, all of us, including myself, make mistakes in our thinking that are not helpful to us.)
Before we start looking at your thought processes, you must have a look at “goals.”
It is important to think about how you define “goals.” Say you want to lose “x” amount by next week. When next week comes, and if you did not lose the amount you wanted, you might quickly feel you did not try hard enough (you were not good enough) or that you failed.
This could quickly be followed by being upset with yourself and if this is a difficult emotion – it might make you eat or do something that you did not want to do. It then becomes a vicious circle.
None of us are perfect! When we make changes, all of us need to set it up, so that we feel like we are accomplishing something.
So – goals.
The goal is not to lose “x” amount. The goal is to attempt to make the changes you want today.
Take each day; a day at a time.
If you attempt to do something differently today, you have achieved your goal for today. It does not matter how it actually turns out, but if you made an attempt, you have succeeded.
Why do I want you to do this?
All of us, including you, need to focus on what we try to do. We are also more likely to succeed if we do it this way. As we sort of turn into our own cheer leader.
Some people do not like doing this, but think of it this way. If you were teaching a child to read, you would encourage each attempt they made at a word, or trying to spell something. It does not really matter whether or not they get it right straight away. What is important it that they attempt it. The more attempts they make, the more likely they will learn to read.
I hope this makes sense :) I want also want you to talk gently to yourself inside your head. If you would be critical of yourself inside your head – stop and think – is this how you would speak to someone else, or to a child learning to read? Probably not, so don’t speak to yourself inside your head harshly. Be nice to yourself :)
I want you to start to work with your thoughts. We are going to do some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) together. CBT is simply how your cognition’s (your thoughts), can make you feel something and make you do something. You can read more on CBT here
Say you had a bad day, and you called a friend for a bit of support and they did not pick up their phone.
You might think something like “they are too busy to talk to me”. This thought might make you feel sad or lonely. These feelings might make you eat to feel a bit better, or have a cigarette or stay at home, instead of going for a walk.
Thought: “they are too busy for me.”
Feeling: Sad or lonely
Behavior: Eat, smoke or do not do exercise.
All thoughts and feelings and behaviors are all linked, so I want you to start tracking them.
There are two worksheets at the bottom of this post, that are free for you to use.
Start with the “thought record sheet.”
Any time you notice any change (no matter how small) in what you are feeling – record it on the sheet.
This does not have to relate to the behavior you are trying to change. Anything that happens, as you go about your day, if something bothers or upsets you, get it on the sheet.
I’ve included an example of a friend not seeing you on the street. Say you were out walking and your friend walked past you and you felt sad or annoyed. This is something you write on the sheets.
For the situation you just write what happened – friend did not say hello to me
Then you record how you felt – sad and annoyed.
Then ask yourself “what is running through my mind” to help you get at your thoughts. Whatever they are, write them down. I gave an example of “She is upset with me, What did I do wrong?”
You then have to check if you have any evidence for the thought. Imagine I was standing beside you and asked what the evidence is. You might think ” I just know I am right, it feels that way” I would ask you for proof, and in this instance we won’t be able to prove your thoughts.
At this stage they are more like guesses or hunches, as unless your friend stated clearly “I walked past you, because you did something wrong and I am ignoring you” – then it’s just a feeling. So in the example I wrote – no evidence.
Then I want you to check the sheet called “unhelpful thinking.”
All of us have habitual ways of thinking, and for the most part – we make habitual mistakes in our thinking.
In this example you would be “mind reading” and “personalizing”- so you write it down.
Then you are asked for a different, more helpful thought and I wrote on the example “She didn’t see me”
Lastly you record how you feel after you get a different way of thinking about the situation.
It is really important to record all of this as it will help you tease apart all of your thought processes (remember thoughts make us feel and do things,) We want to make sure your thoughts are making you feel and do things that are helpful.
To recap, what I want you to do is;
Start working with your thought processes, using the attached sheets.
Talk to yourself nicely inside your head, if you get annoyed.
Goals – the goal is to attempt to do things. That is all, just attempt. That’s success.