PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

I heard that you might want to make some changes to become happier and more fulfilled.

Well, what are you waiting for?! Just do it! Do it now! Go! Start! Fast! Come on! What’s wrong with you?! Get it done!

That approach of hammering and berating yourself is not effective. In fact, it is quite unmotivating, especially in the long-term.

Did you know that it is scientifically impossible to simply change and create a whole new way of being suddenly and without practice?

Imagine you want to become a professional golfer. You decided one day that would be something you would like to do. So, you told yourself, “Just do it! It’s a matter of will. If I want it bad enough, I can have it. Just do it!” What then? Would you expect yourself, never having hit a golf ball, to go out the next day and successfully compete against Tiger Woods? Of course not. You know that is impossible.

Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time. We decide that we want to eat healthier, exercise more, act differently in our relationships, and we tell ourselves to “just do it!” Then we slip into behaving the same old way that didn’t work before and believe we have done something wrong and somehow should have gotten different results. What we are missing here is that change requires skill and

DEVELOPING A SKILL REQUIRES PRACTICE!

 Not just practice, but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then some more PRACTICE.

You can start PRACTICING new behaviors to start to change your life today. Here are FIVE STEPS for successful practice:

  1. Think about what you want and make sure it is something that YOU want. (Not something you think you “should” want or a way that others believe you “should” behave.)

EXAMPLES: You want to feel healthy and vibrant in your body and want to change your eating to achieve this. (You do NOT set out to change your diet because someone told you that you should.)

  1. Now, think about some action steps that might be needed for you to be on the path toward what you want. Keep these actions steps simple and easy enough for you to do them in real time.

EXAMPLES: mindfully eat a nourishing meal, go for a walk, take a breath before responding when irritated, go to bed before midnight

  1. Write these action steps into your personal Reinforcement Practice Sheet (CLICK HERE).
  2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then PRACTICE engaging in these behaviors whenever you can.
  3. Rather than focusing on or mentally beating yourself up for when you are not practicing, focus your mind on when you do PRACTICE, and reinforce it. (Use the Reinforcement Practice Sheet for ideas.)

Most importantly, give yourself a break! Smile, laugh, understand that you are human, and revel in the imperfections along the way. (More on this in a future newsletter.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

If you know or have worked with me, you have most probably heard me say that REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have shown this to be true again and again. When you want to change behavior, define steps toward your goals (that are possible for you to take) and reinforce them over and over again. Then what? Well, then it gets interesting.

As it turns out, change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way. It does NOT look like this:

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Even powerfully reinforcing a behavior does not produce change in an upward, no mistakes fashion. We do not go from eating processed food that drains our energy to reinforcing whole foods eating and suddenly, in 10 days, reform our eating for life, with no going back. Change just doesn’t work like that.

Rather, change is messy and looks more like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

What this means is that we will inevitably slip back into old, ineffective behaviors. Most of the time, you WILL go back to engaging in behaviors that you would like to stop. Even if you follow behavior-change protocols to a perfect “T”, you will find yourself engaging in old, ineffective behavior at some point. You will eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, stay up later and get less rest than you know you need.

My message to you is this: Be ENCOURAGED by this part of the change process!

Let’s look back at the messy model of change. The green line going through the graph represents the slope of the line or the rate of change. Notice that although there were setbacks in progress along the way, overall, progress is upward moving!

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Going backward momentarily can mean that progress is happening. You are headed in the right direction and engaging in old, ineffective behaviors is part of making the changes you want. Now that you know this, you can give up on the illusion of perfection.

Isn’t that empowering?!

You can anticipate this process and give yourself a break when it happens. Instead of judging yourself, giving yourself a mental slap with harsh self-critical thinking, or giving up, you can reinforce yourself for noticing when you’ve gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, reinforce, take a small step toward the path you want to be on, and reinforce! Practice this over and over and over until the practice becomes what you automatically do.

The more you engage in this cycle,

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of change, not failure! What happens is that the more we notice we’ve reverted to old ways, reinforce our noticing, and get back on track, the sooner we will get back on course and more quickly reach our goals.

Keep going, keep practicing and try to enjoy and laugh in the process.

Remember, life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by and we realize we haven’t made that change that we wanted at all. We just can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a short time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by and we are sick of being restrictive and depriving ourselves, so we give in and indulge, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

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In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

Life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando