How to Sustain Behavioral Changes

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I participated in a training you recently did and enjoyed many of the ideas. I want to put some of those ideas into practice. But I find every time I make a commitment to do something differently, I fall back into bad habits. This frustrates me, and I feel it holds me back from being as successful as I could be. I know motivation is important, and I am motivated, but I am not successful. This is a vicious cycle because once I am not successful, I feel less motivated. I’m not sure if my experience is common, but I’d appreciate any tips on how to make the changes work for me.

Heather P.

Dear Heather,

Your experience is very common! Think about the many years we spend cultivating a certain approach to doing something. Our bad habits did not happen overnight, so our new habits cannot change that way either. Most of us, at least those that want to improve, go to a great webinar, conference or training and hear great ideas and feel inspired while we are there. We want to make the changes, but then we return to the emails, voice mails and tasks we left behind that call our attention away. There is no plan for implementing what we hope to do differently, so it is quite natural to default to what you’ve always done.

When you hear a new idea or feel inspired to do something differently, you need a plan in order to shift your behavior away from what you don’t want and toward something new. It’s more common to recognize what we want to move away from, not what we want to move toward. Create a step-by-step plan for yourself. My trademarked SHIFT process can help with this. (Learn more about this at )

  1. Identify what success looks like to you. Write this down. If you were doing the new behavior you want, how would you know? What quantitative or qualitative measurements do you need to have?
  1. Know your obstacles to success and collect these. Let’s say you want to be more efficient on reviewing emails, but you have a bad habit of stopping what you are doing every time a new email comes in. Note this, and recognize it’s an obstacle within your control. Most of the time we don’t make change happen because we focus only on what we want and not what is in our way.
  1. Identify your own strengths and weaknesses. If we stick with the email example, are you someone who feels the need to respond immediately to everything that comes in? Conversely, do you ignore emails until they build up and you can’t get to everyone? We all have inherent strengths and areas for improvement. Note yours so you can leverage the strengths and work a plan for other areas.
  1. Give yourself options. Most of us work better when we have some choice about what we could do. Try a couple of different things to see what works best for you. When we do training, we never lay out a prescriptive approach because each of us has different preferences. Don’t feel compelled to do it one way; Try alternatives until you see which fits you best.
  1. Create the plan. Once you know what works best for you, document a process to implement it. This means taking into account your obstacles, your personal preferences and the steps needed to make the change you want.

Does this sound like a lot? Unfortunately, if you truly want to make a shift in your behavior, it does take discipline and focus. Motivation is important, but it’s not enough. You have to have a process and plan for success. Once you start to make the change and you see how well it works, you will be encouraged and want to do more. Good luck!