How to Successfully Influence Positive Behavior Change in Others
Unfortunately, you can’t physically make someone else change; however, you CAN successfully influence positive change in others. This idea is something I carry with me daily; as a teacher, coach, puppy mom, friend, sister.
Transtheoretical Model of Health in Behavior Change
To explain, I’ll need to share with you the Transtheoretical Model of Health in Behavior Change. (Don’t worry, I will simplify it).
According to Prochaska & DiClemente, there are 5 stages of behavior change that we can use to help guide individuals through a desired change in behavior. Those stages are: (1) Pre-Contemplation, (2) Contemplation, (3)Preparation, (4) Action, and (5) Maintainence.
Behavior Change Can Be Used for All Behaviors
This behavior change model is often used in the following programs:
- Weight management programs
- Smoking cessation programs
- Drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs
- Classroom Management
- Coaching Sports / CrossFit / Fitness
Many people are deemed good or bad based on their behaviors. The beauty of this idea, is that behaviors can be changed at any time.
When we start to realize that most of our frustration with another person stems from a behavior of that person and not because of the actual person themself- we can really start to problem-solve in our communication methods.
All Actions are Behaviors
What’s great about it, is that the model can easily be applied to many other behaviors like a student that’s sleeping in class, a son that never puts his laundry away, or a daughter that’s acting out for no (apparent) reason.
- Being Lazy
- Acting Out
- Eating Healthy
- Meeting Deadlines
- Sticking to Schedules
- Positive Thinking
5 Steps of Behavior Change
The behaviors above can all be used positively or negatively. Each behavior in the list above can be changed for better or worse.
- That’s because we always have choices.
Here’s a quick overview of the 5 Stages to Behavior Change:
- Pre-Contemplation: Clueless that a problem exists with one’s behavior
- Contemplation: Aware, considering change or not
- Preparation: Aware, ready to change, making plans to change
- Action: Acting on the plan to change the behavior using a strategy
- Maintaince: Continuing to act with the new behavior
Now let’s look closer at 5 the stages of behavior change:
Stage One: Pre-Contemplation
In the pre-contemplation stage, the person is completely unaware of a harmful behavior. They have absolutely no clue that a problem even exists.
What problem? I don’t have a problem. Not even aware of an issue.
This can be the most hurtful stage for the person with the behavior problem.
You should never assume that a person recognizes that problem- to them in this stage it’s not even on their radar. It can be easier and less confrontational to approach the person’s behavior as if they have no idea that what they are doing is apparently harmful to them (because they don’t).
At this point, you’ll want to influence the person to see that behavior as a problem without hurting their feelings. You don’t want to risk your power of influence in your opening statements about the behavior.
Influence them to see another solution. Be specific with your recommended solution. Examples include:
- “I need you to sit down.”
- “I would prefer you stand over here.”
- “Can you please whisper instead of shouting across the room?”
- “Cut to the block next time instead of the wing.”
- “Next time do your homework before you go outside.”
- “I understand you’re upset with your weight, do you want to make a plan?”
This strategy does 2 things: (1) it takes the tension out of the interaction. (2) It provides a clear idea of what the person SHOULD do- or what you are expecting them to do.
Stage Two: Contemplation
The second stage is contemplation. At this stage, the person recognizing a behavior and is considering a change.
Ok, there’s a problem… I know it’s there. Considering a change but not really making any action to change yet.
In this stage, the behavior is acknowledged but the person is not really thinking about making a plan to change yet.
The “elusive tomorrow” exists here. When you think to yourself, “Yea, I want to lose weight, but I’m gonna go have a donut and maybe start on Monday or Tuesday, I don’t know really.”
A lot of dieters get stuck in this stage. We may find ourselves talking to our friends about how we are going to get healthy, but we haven’t actually figured out how this is going to happen.
This is still progress, so don’t get discouraged here- it’s just a part of the process.
Stage Three: Preparation
This is a good stage. The person has contemplated a change and is now starting to commit to the idea and make a real plan. Preparation includes outlining and committing to a strategy. Some preparation steps include:
- Buying a new planner
- Packing our gym bag
- Scheduling workouts
- Mapping out a 20-week program
- Digging out our meal prep containers & packing them
- We start making a real plan.
- Choosing an app to track diet & exercise
- Planning a program on a calendar
- Signing up for class
Preparation is a positive. We are motivated and ready to really do something new. We know it’s a problem, we have thought about changing the problem, talked about it, and now we are preparing a plan to change.
Sometimes we come back to this stage when our current strategy isn’t working.
Stage Four: Action
This stage is the first stage of awesomeness. It’s probably not going to be perfect, but we are clearly showing a new behavior to replace the old one.
- Working out
- Lifting Weights
- Meal Prep
- Healthy Decisions
- Playing Sports
- Logging Diet & Exercise
- Participating in Class
The action stage is just as it seems- this is the part where you are actually doing what you set out to do.
Sometimes actions still need to be adjusted if the current actions aren’t effective. Regardless, this is the stage that’s exciting to see someone finally reach. They are moving, trying, changing.
Actions can be adjusted.
Stage Five: Maintenance
In the maintenance stage, the person has reduced or eliminated the problem, replaced the first behavior with a new behavior and now they just have to keep up the new learned behaviors.
Easier said than done!
Always encourage the new behaviors, even if it’s a multiple attempt at a change.
If you’re truly wanting the person to be successful, don’t harm them with doubt or discouraging remarks. Instead, promote the new behavior and appreciate the person’s strength to try to change.
You never know what lasting effect your words and actions could have on someone else. Choose to give positivity.
The Stages are Flexible +/-
Always remember, the five stages of behavior change are negatively or positively flexible. Change is a process. It’s scary and uncomfortable and most normal people struggle through the process.
Remember that the stages are always flexible +/-
Role of an Influencer
Each stage of change takes time. As an influencer, your role is to guide behavior of others- not MAKE them CHANGE. If you try to MAKE someone change, they’ll often just resist simply because they aren’t ready. Maybe they don’t even see what you see.
This isn’t easy.
I’m not promising you can save the world, but maybe you can successfully influence positive change in those around you using these techniques. At least you should be hopeful and try! 🙂
Always Remember: Kids Want to Be Good.
Most people- especially kids, want to be good. They want to do what is expected of them and they enjoy doing the right things. Even the ‘bad’ kids want to be good- and they’ll start believing that they are ‘bad’ kids if they can’t figure out how to be ‘good’. These ‘bad’ kids can’t possibly win if they are constantly guessing. If you fill their minds with cues like, “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. No, No, No, What were you thinking? That was stupid, etc.” The result is a confused kid.
See the problem here? The kid or person being influenced is then left to guess again and is now fearful of the next ‘Don’t’ or ‘No’ which often translates on the inside as bad, wrong, stupid- whether that was the intended message or not. Eventually they don’t know what to guess any more and they are afraid to get told ‘don’t’ or ‘no’ so they either (1) freeze and become apathetic or (2) act out / become confrontational
Give People Ideas, Hope, Inspiration
So, the only way to change someone else is to give them positive ideas. Influence them to change. Show them another solution. Give answers. Ultimately the behavior is their own and you must respect that boundary to properly nurture it. You cannot feel guilty for the decisions or actions of another person if you have done your best to positively influence them. Most importantly, don’t give up if the change is important. Re-word your message, pick better timing, or deliver in a different medium- these are all things an influencer can control.
Your Behavior is the Most Powerful Influence of Others’ Behavior
The true secret to behavior change is to recognize your own behaviors and those of others. Since we can’t physically change others, we have to physically change ourselves.
Don’t be discouraged with this, it’s easier than it seems.
You can preach to someone to care, to try, to exercise, but they won’t feel the power of your influence unless you care, you try, you’re exercising.
The people you try to influence need to SEE that your behavior choice is desirable. They need to feel accepted and have permission to act the way you act.
Continuous Influence of Positive Behavior Change
Ultimately, the decision to change rests with the person being influenced. They will start to change when they want to. You should just be ready to continue influencing positive change when they are ready.
Don’t Give Up!
Don’t give up on someone. We all have struggles and reasons for our actions. Keep building your relationship with the other person and strengthening your influence on them by choosing to be patient. Keep waiting and hoping for them to making a positive change. Encourage small actionable shifts in behavior and avoid making belittling comments about any effort of change. Those little efforts could lead to a big change one day.
These are the steps I used to help over 100 students graduate from an alternative school in Indiana. That’s my secret to influencing positive behavior change.
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