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Free: Your toolkit for change (part 1 of 5)

My blog this year is laser focused on making good quality long term change. So far we've looked at basic measurements for change, barriers to long term change and how to choose which change to make first.

The next series of 5 articles will teach you to better understand the process of change. We’ll look at different ways that theorists have described this procedure. We’ll explain how important willpower is when effecting long term change (spoiler, not very). We’ll also reveal your brain’s reticular activation system and demonstrate how you can use it as a mental goalkeeper to keep you laser focused on each step. By the end of this series you should understand the logic behind long lasting change, have greater insight into past failures and increased confidence in your ability to succeed. This knowledge will provide you with the toolkit you need to tackle life altering goals.

Scientific models of change

Imagine if a government understood how to motivate the population to eat well, exercise and look after one another? What tremendous productivity could you expect; how small would the public health bill become? Theorists have for decades attempted to understand what drives people to alter their behaviour, especially with regards to public health. These theories have driven government policy and health provision around the world. Unfortunately the theories are diverse and hard to evaluate in practice. Here is a quick explanation of many of these theories, using smoking as an example of a habit.

Some researchers have theorised that when people understand the benefits of any given health change, they will naturally go on to take the correct steps. This would suggest that everyone would stop smoking as soon as they see the images on the cigarette packet.

Others have suggested that people conform to the current societal norms, essentially copying those closest to them. There is a great amount of anecdotal evidence to support this, usually in the form of studying any person and the 5 people they spend the most time with. It can often be observed that they will have the same good or bad habits, be roughly the same weight and earn similar amounts of money. Would you stop smoking if all your friends had?

There is one particular model which states that a person’s likelihood of adopting any certain good or bad habit depends on their past experience of that behaviour. This can come either through first hand encounters or from watching others. Children of alcoholics growing up with dependency issues would fall into this category. If a close relative died of lung disease, would this put you off smoking or convince you to quit?

A very early theory called the Health Belief Model from the 1950s reckons that people will weigh up what they believe to be the danger of any particular health condition with the usefulness of its treatment before deciding whether to change a bad habit. Consider a smoker who refuses to quit until faced with statistics of lung cancer alongside the swift renewal of lung tissue once smokers have stopped. The Health Belief Model is established on the idea that the smoker would have to know both the risks of smoking and the effects of treatment before making a decision to stop.

We’ll use the smoking example again next week, this time to explain the most cited and relevant scientific model of the process of change: The Transtheoretical Model (stages of change), developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s.

Briefly, it purports that, regardless of outside influences, people don’t make change until they are personally ready. It also recognises that people learn from each part of their change and use this knowledge to revive previously failed attempts at change or to kickstart new efforts.

Enjoy Good Health.

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