Many times when people tell the story of how they changed a habit, they recall a single event that prompted the shift:
“I saw a photo of myself and realized that I needed to lose weight.”
“When I got out of breath taking the stairs during the fire drill at work, I decided I needed to quit smoking.”
“My cholesterol numbers were off the charts, so I thought I had better change my diet.”
In reality, though, the event that people describe was likely just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many different change processes were brewing beneath the surface for a long time, and they finally came together to create a tipping point for change.
In his recent book Change: What Really Leads to Personal Transformation, author Jeffrey Kottler lists the elements that may “feed on one another and eventually multiply and pool their influences to lead you in a given direction.” These include attitude shift, experimentation with alternatives, skill development, support, cognitive restructuring, and meaning making.
For example, imagine a woman who begins to fill her day with healthy and nutritious foods after years of unhealthy eating. She may have arrived at this transformation because she challenged her negative thoughts and became more flexible in her thinking (cognitive restructuring), and she learned how to forgive herself for the occasional slip-up (attitude shift). She began the change effort by searching for healthy breakfast foods she liked (experimentation with alternatives), and she eventually built up a new daily meal plan after taking some nutrition classes at her local community college (skill development). It was somewhat easy to stick with this plan because her next-door neighbor was doing it, too (support), and they could encourage each other. She found that eating better gave her the energy she needed to be more generous with others, and this was very important to her (meaning making).
Knowing that change happens at many different levels, you can take advantage of this when you are creating a new habit or eliminating an old one. Design a plan that includes all six change processes. Put the right ingredients in place to let synergy occur, rather than passively waiting until you reach the threshold that is the tipping point for change.
Think of a significant change you have made in your life. Can you recognize how more than one change process was at work?
For a specific process you can use to map out a route to habit change, check out this week’s blog post at pocketchangebook.com.