Why is it so hard to make change happen?
Ailbhe Bhreathnach 03/06/2013
When we think about a healthy lifestyle, the ‘big four’ unhealthy habits normally enter the equation; smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise and poor diet. As health professionals, we try to encourage clients to change these habits, providing them with up-to-date information and techniques to enable change. However, simply giving clients advice to change is unrewarding and ineffective. Most clients know what a healthy lifestyle should look like but the difficulty is implementing this. So why is it so hard to make change happen?
Each one of us has to take personal responsibility for the choices we make. We are free to choose amongst all the options in front of us but often we are not fully aware of how we make our choices. We are shaped by our past, our environment and the people around us. Furthermore, eating behaviour is driven by social and emotional factors and the behavioural patterns we develop become associated with meaning. The human brain instinctively seeks pleasure; offered an apple or an apple pie, which would you take? We also subconsciously seek the path of least resistance; offered a seat, would you sit or stay standing? On top of this we have a preference for short-term gain regardless of long-term consequences. Based on all this, it might be fair to say that healthy behaviour is abnormal behaviour!
Change is hard. Significant effort over an extended period of time is required to achieve it.
For a lot of clients, a healthy behaviour may be a harder path to follow than an unhealthy behaviour indefinitely. Behaviour change has been shown to be easier for the client if their environment is conducive to healthy behaviour. More importantly, if the client exhibits strong self-efficacy, they are more likely to achieve successful behaviour change.
There are four key steps to supporting clients through behaviour change:
1. Relationship skills - establishing a change based relationship using motivational interviewing
2. Motivational skills – fully understanding the behaviour
3. Behaviour change skills - making sustainable changes
4. Emotion management skills - helping to maintain the behaviour
As a professional, our role in supporting change is essential to the success of the client. Establishing a strong, trusting relationship and developing rapport with clients is crucial. We no longer adopt the expert position. After all, our client is the real expert of their life and situation. We need to be more aware of the messages received by the client than on the messages that we send out. This means that we need to bring the individual to the centre of the change process, which can be achieved utilising a strong motivational skillset described above.
Want to learn more about the psychology of behaviour change? Why not study our Behaviour Change Coaching course. Read more here
Next fortnight: How to achieve a strong motivational skillset