How to Create Meaningful Behavior Change

No matter when or how strongly motivated you are, behaviour change is hard. The best of intentions can still lead to a low probability of turning a decision to adopt a new habit or break an old one into a long term behaviour.

How do you go about making change stick?

Today I’m going to share with you two mindsets that can help significantly and also give you a methodology for making behaviour change that I’ve successfully tested.

BUILDING A PRACTICE

In my case my overall objective was to build up a regular yoga practice and I decided to do 100 yoga sessions as a means to make it a habit. The key word here is ‘practice’: change is not a one off event, a lever you pull down one day and it then stays down indefinitely.

Building up a practice requires conscious commitment in three stages.

In the first stage I made the decision to increase my mindfulness and overall well being. I also chose to do so through yoga. I did contemplate building up my running regimen or joining a gym again, but decided that yoga was the best approach.

The second stage was all about doing the work: the hard slog of showing up; day in, day out. This was harder in the early stages of building the practice as I was yet to notice the benefits; my body was anything but supple, which meant even the most basic yoga poses were tough.

The third and final phase is about maintaining the practice. Once I’d reached the peak of my practice and done 100 yoga sessions, I could not slack off; I had to keep showing up. Yoga is a great behavioural change teacher because the longer you miss your daily sessions the more you punish yourself when you finally do a session; your muscles have tightened, you struggle to get into the zone. This gives you a very direct, short term incentive to keep the practice going

POSITIVE TRIGGERS PERSIST

What is motivating you to attempt a behavior change? Negative drivers like guilt or fear are much less likely to produce long-lasting change. Instead you should find a positive trigger for change, one that is self-motivating for you.

This has a lot to do with the power of visualisation. Seeing yourself affected positively by the change will drive you through the slumps when you don’t feel like showing up and doing the work.

In my case I saw myself more focused and fitter, happier with myself and in greater balance with the universe. These were all powerfully positive triggers that have persisted as I used the behavior change system below to create a yoga practice.

IMPLEMENTING A BEHAVIOR CHANGE SYSTEM

I firmly believe in the mantra: no plan, no progress. How can you know you are on or off track if you have no plan and are not analysing your performance data. I’m going to share with you a system that will empower you to map yourself from plan to data to progress and ultimately to creating a practice.

You will need a notebook. You are free to use whatever form of notebook works for you: paper or digital, as long as it is readily available to you.

I use Evernote for most of my working notes, collating research for my various projects and as an avid foodie, for my favourite recipes. I have set up an easily accessible system within Evernote for tracking my annual objectives. If you are interested I’d be happy share this system with you.  One of those objectives was to set up a regular yoga practice.

And so I set up a note in Evernote titled ‘Build up to a regular yoga practice’. This could be a Word document, or a dedicated set of pages in your diary or journal, whatever tool works for you.

My page was divided into three main parts:

– Affirmation of Intent – a positive visualisation motivating me to complete the objective
– Next Actions – a to-do list of what I needed to commence and complete the objective
– Key Results – a collated set of data tracking my progress.

AFFIRMATION OF INTENT

I visualised myself having achieved this objective. I asked myself how this made me feel? I then made a declaration affirming my intent. From this I could extract my main motivators for building up this practice. I listed my top 3 motivators. Remember that the stronger and more positive these motivators are the more likely you are to continue with the exercise and achieve your objective.

I visualised myself being more centred and relaxed. I saw myself smiling more, treating others with greater empathy because I was more in tune with their rhythms and the energy of the universe. I was fitter and more flexible and saw myself partaking more in one of my favourite sports, stand up paddle surfing.

Here are my motivations for having a regular yoga practice:

– Increase mindfulness
– Increase body flexibility
– Increase fitness

NEXT ACTIONS

In this section I listed the specific and detailed actions I felt I needed to take to bring me closer to achieving my objective. I made these as specific as possible and created a to-do list so that I could check off when I had completed each action.

Here is my completed list:

[x] Get an app that coaches me through yoga

[x] Use Yogaglo for trial, if OK then continue using

[x] Check in half way – at 50 sessions

[x] Final check in at 100 sessions

KEY RESULTS

Without data you cannot know if you are progressing. In this section I tracked my progress by using my daily exercise as a measurement. I set this out in table format as per below:

Date Measurement
28/04 Starting 100 day plan from 29th April – map it out below
29/04 1. Yin for people who sit a lot, L1, 60m with Tiffany Cruickshank (Yogaglo)
30/04 2. Yoga for SUP, L1, 30m with Alex van Frank (Yogaglo)

I set out the date and numbered each yoga session numerically. My aim was to get to 100 yoga sessions and I had a real sense of satisfaction adding in each session straight after I’d completed it and watching the numbers go up and up. I then listed the name of the yoga session, what level of difficulty it was (Yogaglo sessions range from 1-3, with 1 being easy, 3 being advanced), how long it was and who the teacher was.

Initially I also listed on which platform I was doing the session. You may want to alternate some live classes with a local yoga teacher. You may also want to try out a few online platforms. I used Yogaglo initially and then tried out a few others. I found that I preferred Yogaglo. I was really comfortable with some of their teachers. In addition their format most approximated a live class (to me), yet had the convenience that I could do it at home or on the road any time of the day. It also helped that their monthly cost was equivalent to the cost of one local live yoga class.

I successfully completed my goal in 5 months, interspersing yoga sessions with walks, stand up paddle sessions, the occasional minor health interruption (a cold, a tummy bug) and intra-week exercise breaks.

Here’s my final check-in note:

Overall this worked well as a tool for inspiring behaviour change. By tracking my sessions it prompted me to ensure that I did them regularly and also by giving myself a mini key result aim of 5-6 hours of yoga a week I pushed myself that much harder to do sessions.

I found the ease of being able to simply set myself up in a room with a mat and launching yogaglo was far easier than going to physical classes. I also found a mix between doing different sessions to break any chance of monotony was balanced by doing some regular classes that I enjoyed more than others and where I could get into flow quicker without having to think about each move as I new what was coming. For example I did the 60 minute Sacral Chakra Flow with Jo Tastula at least once a week. I also thoroughly enjoyed synching to the universe and doing the Contemplative Full Moon Flow class on the day of a full moon. Interestingly even though I had access to about 20 teachers I tended to stick with one above all others because I was most comfortable with her style.

I played around with the ideal class duration. On Yogaglo sessions range from 15 to 90 minutes. I did a few short sessions, one or two 90 minute ones and a good few 30 minute sessions on days when I felt short on time or had low energy. However, the bulk of my sessions were 60 minutes. I enjoyed the cadence of this hour long classes. There was enough time for an initial meditation, we spent longer on chakras and ended with a nourishing shavasana. As I have done some yoga before I quickly moved from Level 1 to Level 2, but I aim cognisant not to over extend my capabilities and cause injury and so did very few Level 3 classes. I did have the occasional pulled muscle where I pushed too hard on a yoga move, but with the help of some anti-inflammatory treatment I recovered quickly.

NEXT STEPS

Use this method to set yourself up with a regular yoga practice or for any other behavior change you want to achieve. It definitely works. Personally I’m a huge fan of yoga and cannot more highly recommend you build a practice for yourself. Namaste!