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:
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:
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!
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,
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!