4 Steps to Changing Behavior (changing behavior pt 5)

I want to invite you to change first:

You are not perfect.

But you are needed. The people closest to you need you the most.

And they need all of you.

The saddest part about your struggles is that it causes you to lose yourself in some ways. Due to the competing facts of who you believe you should be and your failures, you become a stranger to yourself.

Unfortunately, if you cannot be authentic with yourself, you cannot be authentic for the people that desperately need you. You can no longer afford to ignore yourself. You have to be whole for the people that need you.



This article will not be about changing your child or loved one. This will be about YOU – the caregiver reading this article. You are the agent of change and during this read, you will learn how to transform yourself. Ultimately, your ability to personally transform will bolster your effectiveness in helping others to also transform.

This will not be terribly hard but it will require your effort.


Let’s change something easy: the way we have conversations  

Take a look at how you converse with others. Start with a specific person that you are in a close relationship with.  Think of the responses you used that resulted in frustrations for the relationship. Perhaps you were too assertive, too passive, too defensive or too distracted. What mistakes do you often make in your most frustrating conversations? What would you like to modify about yourself when you are talking to that specific person?


Remember, there is meaning behind your behavior. The way you behave in conversations is connected to a series of internal thoughts that make you who you are.  Your behaviors are a result of rehearsed patterns that ensure what you do is consistent with how you see the world. Behavior is language because if you watch it closely it can tell you a story.

Disclaimer PT 2

Be patient with yourself. You will be working to confound years of training. Anytime you are attempting change, you are choosing to wage war against time, knowledge and personal common sense. So be patient. You will learn below that success isn’t about perfection but awareness.


4 Steps to change

Here are 4 steps to creating a change in your behavior.

Step 1: Slow down and pay attention

Step 2: Learn the story

Step 3: Learn the triggers

Step 4: Create lasting habits

Note that the majority of the steps to changing behavior has nothing to do with action. Changing behavior has more to do with awareness and learning. In the following steps, the action (Step 4) only comes after understanding yourself. Essentially, we are training ourselves to be dependent on what we see (transformation) as opposed to being reactive to external stressors (conforming).

Here is a summary of each step. I will expound on each item in a later post.


Step 1: Slow down and pay attention

Key statement: Being deliberately aware

In this step, we step outside of ourselves and watch ourselves. Do not pay attention to the stressor, focus on your posture, words that you chose, your facial expression, the tone of your voice etc. Just observe yourself, do not change anything yet.


Step 2: Learn the story

Key statement: Looking back for forward strength

As we slow down, we now have the space to notice why we do the things we do. This step is all about understanding the story or reason for the sequences of choices that lead to bad behavior.

We are going to try to understand ourselves at this stage. PLEASE NOTE* this isn’t meant to be a psychotherapeutic analysis. DO NOT go too deep. This step is meant to encourage you to be compassionate and patient with yourself. It took a long time to make you a mess, give yourself the space to change.  


Step 3: Learn the triggers

Key statement: If you can see it, you can defeat it.

So far, you have learned to slowed down, then you learned the story or reason behind why you do what you do. Now, work on seeing the small critical moments that lead to action –  these are your triggers.

This step is meant to give you enough awareness to allow your triggers to cue you for action. You may never be able to change your triggers but over time you can gain control over what action is cued from that trigger.  If you can see the trigger coming, you can defeat your bad behavior through step 4.


Step 4: Create lasting habits

Key statement: Live in truth, respond in faith


Start with the destination: If your bad behavior did not exist, who would you be? What would be different about you?

Guess what…you have just defined your destination. The version of yourself in your destination determines how you build your journey.



“You do not heal by fixing what is broken in the past. You heal by building stronger today than you ever have before.” – Dr. Noel Woodroffe

In order to do this, you have to start with forgiveness. Forgive people, events and yourself. Forgive your history and your future mistakes. You are not a collection of mistakes, bad timing, and bad luck. You are the person that stands at your destination not who you used to be.

Give yourself permission to live in the truth of who you are and be completely convinced that there is no other truth than the one you are becoming.


END [Ready…Set…Action!]

Like most children of this generation, my 2-year-old son navigates his favorite phone apps like a professional. One of the first skills he learned was how to refresh his videos when they were not working properly.

Like a 2-year-old, I want you to learn how to hit the refresh button when your behavior isn’t working properly.

When you are struggling to live up to who you really are, allow yourself to start all over again. A traditional behavioral modification would tell you to do it right the first time. I say do it right even though you’ve ruined your first try.  Do it right when you don’t feel like it. Do it right even though it would be awkward or frustrating to do it again. Hit the refresh button on yourself.

If your updated behaviors are allowed to overwhelm your broken behaviors you will systematically create new habits.


The moral of the story

When it comes to changing behavior, 10% of the battle is about getting it right and 90% of the battle is knowing who you are and believing who you are becoming. It’s from this place that we can then systematically create new habits despite yourself. Knowing the truth about yourself gives you the context for the possibility for your positive behavior.


Crossing the bridge [your turn]

You will never do this unless you create a guarded plan to get it done:


  1. Focus on limiting your effort on one specific kind of conversation with one specific person.
  2. Strategically plan to have the conversation 2 times to implement each step.
  3. Journal or write a quick note on your phone after each conversation.
  4. Note how well you are slowing down, learning your story and learning your triggers.
  5. Note how easy it is becoming to identify a destination and forgive people, events and yourself. Also, notice how well you are hitting the refresh button.
  6. Rinse and repeat.


What’s Next?

Let’s take these steps and apply it to our children. In the next post, I will present how this is done for each stage of development, from infants to teens.


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