Over the years, I have witnessed countless attempts by professionals from all walks of life to change some aspect of their behavior in leading others.
Studying why some have failed while others have succeeded reveals tremendously helpful insights. The difference between the two has led us to develop a simple and practical five-step model that anyone can follow who desires sustained personal change in any aspect of life.
Following all five of these steps will help anyone sustain personal behavior change. The trick is making sure you do all five steps. Leaving out any single step, especially the last one, can dramatically decrease your chance of sustained behavioral change.
To illustrate the power of these steps, let us use the example of someone who wants to lose weight.
You realize you are not in the physical shape that you think you should be in.
Maybe you read an article on health, went to the doctor, or looked at other people’s bodies at the beach. Another way of understanding this first critical step is to substitute the term awareness with Ah-ha. It is the lightbulb of a new idea, fact, or impression that hits you as a result of feedback from another person (a friend, coach, mentor, or family member) or a personal discovery. IF you want to, you can move on to the next step, but only if you really want to. If there is no interest in moving to Step 2, then the potential for change stops at this first step.
You desire to do something with this new awareness or ah-ha. You want to do something about it because you are dissatisfied with the current status. You do not want to be overweight. You do not like the way your clothes fit. You do not like the fact that you are out of shape. This is about a personal motivation to do something about your awareness or the knowledge you have gained. IF you want to, you can move on to the next step, but only if you really want to. Otherwise the change process stops right at this point.
Once you are aware and want to change, it is necessary to get the resources and skills to prepare you for action. You need to understand how to read food labels, identify the pros and cons of various dieting approaches, and what exercises would be helpful for you. This is when training and tools become so important, so you can learn new skills and access the ability to help you turn your desire into action.
Now that you are armed with awareness, desire, and new resources and skills, you are prepared to put these tools to work for you. The action step is where the rubber meets the road.
Set reasonable goals that encourage. Use the new resources. Start making small changes. Unfortunately, this is the step where change often fizzles out. Despite the successful completion of all the other previous steps, this step can begin with a bang and too often end with a whimper. People are not able to stick with it. They become discouraged. They allow old habits to take over. The needs of the day soon dominate and little is changed. Without the last step, Step #5, the likelihood of sustained change is considerably lower. The key to SUSTAINED personal change is in the final step.
No matter how strong minded we are, there will come a point where we need the encouragement of others to help us continue. Sharing your goal or commitment with a trusted friend, asking him or her to keep you on track, will be the final piece of the formula for personal success.
In those moments of weakness or discouragement, your supportive associate will kindly yet firmly watch out for you, encourage you, and provide the support over time that you seek. When this final step is ignored, the longevity of your goal dies over time. Including this final step, makes all the difference in the world for you to accomplish the change you desire. Yet, support is not just an individual to individual activity. Having personal or group support is just one kind of support. The other type of support is organizational or structural. This involves the support from policies, procedures, and rules of the organization you work for, or the structure of your habits and friends. For example, it is very smart to join a weight loss support group. It is also smart to change the contents of your cupboards at home and change the position of your La-Z-Boy® recliner so it isn’t directed toward the TV.