Top 5 Problems Preventing Behavior Change (And How to Fix Them)Reading time: 5 minutes

By |2018-10-19T14:26:44+00:00September 7th, 2018|Behavior Change|

1. Not Recognizing Room for Improvement. 

When I was teaching a course at USF I asked students on the first day to define what healthy was to them and indicate whether they were healthy or not. Coincidentally all of the students believed they were healthy. Throughout the entire semester my goal was to show how they perceived “health” and to open up opportunities to make healthier choices.

People tell me they “eat healthy” or they “eat clean” as if they have mastered eating. Having a mindset where we think we will reach a point of dietary perfection is preparing ourselves for failure. Do you think Warren Buffet is satisfied with his net worth? Ask Leonardo daVinchi if his artwork is ever complete? Do you think Michael Jordan ever thought he was the best basketball player? The answer is simply — no. These individuals never believe their talents, practice and work were perfect or mastered. Rather they constantly strive for improvement.

Always find room for improvement.

2. Not focused on things that matter. 

A few years ago my sister Megan came to me looking for brotherly advice. She said she was considering going back for her Masters degree. So I naturally asked “why?” and she said she wanted to make more money. Having two Masters degrees and knowing the financial damage they cause this didn’t make sense. Especially since my sister was never a fan of school. So I wanted to understand why she wanted to make money and ultimately came to the conclusion she didn’t need to make more money, but rather not spend it as fast!

The point is our automatic common sense solutions to our problems are not always correct. In some cases, the intuitive, popular or easy approach is one that may move us in the absolute wrong direction. For example, when it comes to weight loss, many focus on losing weight instead of understanding why they gained weight which may reveal better solutions.  Anther is people who work harder or longer thinking it will unlock more money and happiness but find themselves stressed and unhappy.  We often try to construct solutions to the wrong problem.  Overcome this by focusing on the outcome you want and work backwards to map the various solutions to getting there.  Remember, the easy approach is not always the best.

The intuitive and appealing solution may not the best solution.

3. Comparing Ourself to Others

When I was in college, I lived with 6 roommates  that ranged from collegiate athletes to lazy slobs. My best friend played lacrosse so I often found myself gravitating toward staying active — running and exercising. However, on days I felt like doing nothing I hung around my lazier roommates. Why? Not because I enjoyed being lazy, but their laziness was something I could compare myself to and make me feel good for not exercising or eating well.

Many people say “we should not compare ourselves to others.” Unless you live in under a rock, comparing ourselves to others is largely impossible. We constantly make social comparisons and often subconsciously surrounding ourself with people to make us feel good. The point is don’t avoid comparisons, use them to your advantage.  Put people who have achieved what you want in your social circles and you will start gravitating toward them and their behaviors.

Leverage social comparisons to motivate healthy and productive behaviors.

4. Connect the Dots Problem

I have been going to the gym routinely for over a decade and one thing I have noticed even among those who frequent the gym is their lack of change. I see people busting their ass at 5am day in and day out in the gym and don’t look any different from the first day they walked in the door. This has intrigued me. Upon closer inspection most consume the calories they burned in their workout before even leaving the gym. I call this the connecting the dots problem.

If we make more money, we spend more money. We work hard, we play hard. We exercise, we eat more. Our mind is wired in a way that seeks to strike harmony between virtues and vices. What does this mean? Our mind and body works in cycles — think wake/sleep, work/relax, spend/save, stress/repair, expend energy/consume energy. When we take a step back and look at our behavior over time, we make healthy decisions and this typically follows some less healthier ones. While many may be aware of us behaving badly at times we rarely connect the dots and can see why we behave this way.

Step back and see how our behaviors are connected.

5. Focusing on the outcome or the process. 

There is much debate about focus on the outcome or process. When it comes to change, it is hard not to focus on the outcome when building initial motivation, traction and momentum. Imagine trying to pick a new job without knowing what you are paid? Our mind magnets to rewards, results, and the fruits of our labor. Therefore, an outward (externally motivated) focus is most liekly the bait for new behavior. However, maintaining an ‘end-focus’ in the long-run which relies on rewards is a quick way to get demotivated and fall off the behavior change bandwagon. The quicker we can transfer the external reward internally and start falling in love with pursuit rather than the fruit of labor we can build a sustainable change.

External (outcome focus) to ignite change, Internal (process focus) to sustain change

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