I've got a goal ... how do I actually make it happen? A behaviour change checklist.
All this self-help stuff sounds good in theory. And the field of positive psychology has done a great job of supporting much of it through research-based evidence.
But even though we might know that things like meditating and gratitude are good for us, why is it that so many of us struggle to actually do them?
Because human behaviour is complex. Changing a behaviour or creating a new one is about so much more than how much we’d like to change.
Most people rely on motivation and willpower. “But I don’t really feel like going to the gym...” and “I will just avoid sweets for the rest of the day to make up for that morning cookie….” are statements so many of us are familiar with. And when we fail to muster up the motivation and willpower to implement the changes we want, we feel guilty and think it’s a personal failure.
Researchers have found that willpower is a finite resource that wanes over the course of a day. It’s finicky and unpredictable. Not a good source to rely on to follow through on healthy behaviours we want to implement!
So what can we do when we truly want to better our lives? When we want to get ahead of the curve and cultivate our wellbeing rather than just do the minimum required to stay alive?
I’ve done some research on the science of habits and behaviour change. There is some good science-backed evidence that teach us how to work with our brain’s natural tendencies and trick it into following through on the changes we want to make.
This checklist is made up of knowledge I’ve acquired through my experience coaching individuals, my background studying the field of positive psychology and two books I’ve read recently - Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg and Atomic Habits by James Clear.
I hope it helps!
1. Understand the difference between goals/aspirations/visions and action steps/behaviours.
“What do you want to achieve?” and “What behaviour will get me there?” are 2 different questions. To follow through on a change, you have to focus on the specific behaviours.
2. Make it something you actually want to do.
You’re not going to follow through on something you don’t have the energy or excitement around doing.
To help motivate you to get excited about a healthy choice you don’t want to do, but know you should (for example, exercise), consider your particular habit forming tendency (do Gretchin Rubin’s quiz here). The other tricks also become even more important in this case as well.
3. Make it SUUUPER easy that you can do it even when motivation is low.
That way you don’t have to rely on motivation and will still experience success. Success is crucial to emphasizing the new habit’s neural pathway in your brain. Our brains like doing things that feel good and that we’re good at.
If you’re working on a big picture goal, you’ll have to break it down into smaller chunks and then even tinier steps. Start with the smallest step. Then build on it as time goes on. Pick a time frame and work backwards. Write it in your calendar so you don’t lose track.
4. Make sure you have all the equipment and knowledge to do the behaviour.
Don’t wait until motivation is low and you’ve got hungry screaming kids to learn how to cook a healthy meal. Make sure you’ve got the recipe, ingredients, and tools in advance.
*warning, don’t let ‘preparation’ become your procrastination to implement!*
5. Create a prompt/cue that triggers the behaviour.
This can be a change to your environment, like putting fruit out on the table so it acts as a subconscious reminder, or not having junk food in the house. A cue can also be something like an alarm. You could also try behaviour stacking which is when you attach the new behaviour onto a pre-existing one to help remind you. Incorporating your new behaviour into a pre-existing routine can also be helpful.
6. Plan for failure.
Don’t expect yourself to be perfect right away. You can forget a few days. Research shows it actually takes way longer than 21 days to form a new habit BUT the good news is, you can mess up once in a while. Think of it like a marathon, not a race. Each small win counts towards the bigger picture.
7. Practice your growth mindset.
We are naturally biased to believe that successful people got there because of their natural talent but research in positive psychology shows that in fact, perseverance and determination create success.
8. Forget Go Big or Go Home.
Small steps WILL end in success. If you believe that something is only worth doing if you can do it perfectly and in a big way the first time, you will definitely fail to incorporate a lasting behaviour change. Small steps people.
9. Face your shame.
Are you starting 10 steps behind everyone else because you are holding on to past failures? Practice some self-compassion and start again. Work on your growth mindset (see #7 & #8).
10. Create some accountability.
Mark your progress on a chart, go do the activity with a friend, create a list/calendar and cross it off, give yourself a reward when it’s done, post on social media, tell a partner, check in with a group.
11. Change the story.
If you’ve decided you’re someone who is always late, you will always be late. You get to choose the story you tell yourself about who you are. When you create a new story around the behaviour you want to implement, you increase your chances of following through
12. Celebrate success.
This makes your brain really enjoy the process of creating a new behaviour. This doesn’t have to mean a physical reward, it could just be taking a few moments to acknowledge how good that new behaviour feels.
13. Replace ‘bad’ behaviours with fun alternatives.
For example, I wanted to stop drinking a beer mindlessly in front of the TV every night at 9pm. So I decided to buy some fancy tea, buy a pretty mug and reframe this activity in my mind as an exercise in self-care. This quickly became more enjoyable than drinking a beer because I made it something I wanted to do (see #2!).
Filter your desired behaviour change through this checklist. What action step will you try this week? And the week after?
For some FREE accountability, email me your action step and I’ll check in on you!
If you're looking for suggested behaviours that can help you feel mentally healthy, fulfilled in life and happier overall, book a free consultation to learn more about the impacts of living your purpose. To start living your purpose now, download the 3-step formula here.