Wed | Jun 23, 2021

Prescription for behaviour change

Published:Monday | August 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMJennifer Ellison-Brown, Contributor

This week's article is a follow-up to last week's article 'Process to Healthy Behaviour'

Using the same plan for every individual who wishes to change a behaviour will not work. The same prescription would not provide optimal results for a person who has been inactive for 20 years compared with one who walks regularly three times each week.

This principle also holds true for people who are attempting to change behaviours. People respond more effectively to a process according to the stage of change they have reached, thus, applying any process at each stage of change enhances the likelihood of changing the behaviour permanently.

The following description of the most common processes of change will help to develop a personal plan for change.



This is the first step in the programme. It involves obtaining information about the programme so you can make a better decision about the problem behaviour. For example, the problem could be physical inactivity. Learning about the benefits of exercise can help you to decide the type of fitness programme to pursue. This is part of the precontemplation stage.



This stresses external alternatives that make you aware of problem behaviours and contemplate change. Examples of social liberations include non-smoking areas, health-oriented cafeterias and restaurants, advocacy groups' civic organisations, policy interventions, and self-help groups.

Social liberation provide opportunities to get involved, stir up emotions and enhance self-esteem, thus helping you to gain confidence in your ability to change.



This is the decisive desire to modify the behaviour. If there is no interest in changing the behaviour, you won't do it. You will remain a pre-contemplator or contemplator. A person who has no intention of quitting smoking will not quit, regardless of what anyone may say or how strong the evidence in favour of quitting. Therefore, in self-analysis you may want to prepare a list of reasons for continuing or discontinuing the behaviour.

When the reasons for changing outweigh the reasons for not changing, you are ready for the contemplation or preparation stage.



This process involves deep emotional experiences. Watching a loved one die of lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking may be all that is needed to make a person quit smoking. Other examples are dramatisation of the consequences of drug use and abuse, a film about open-heart surgery, or books illustrating damage to body systems as a result of unhealthy behaviours.



Having a positive outlook means taking an optimistic approach from the beginning and believing in yourself and working towards change, and remaining enthused about your progress. Also you may become motivated by looking at the outcome - how much healthier you will be, how much better you will look, or how far you will be able to jog.



Upon making a decision to change, you now accept the responsibility to change and believe in your ability to do so - you have begun the preparation stage.

Now, you must draw up a specific plan of action, write down your goals and share them with others. In essence, you are signing a behavioural contract for change. You would be more likely to adhere to your programme if others know you are committed to change.



Now, you must determine the frequency, circumstances and consequences of the behaviour to be altered or implemented. If the desired outcome is to consume less fat, you must first find out what foods in your diet are high in fat, when you eat them and when you don't eat them - all part of the preparation stage.

Knowing when you don't eat those, points to circumstances under which you exert control of your diet and will help as you set goals.



Goals motivate change in behaviour. The stronger the goal or desire, the more motivated you will be either to change the unwanted behaviour or to implement new, healthy behaviours.

Write down your goals and prepare an action plan to achieve those goals. This will help with modifying the behaviour.

(This topic will continue next week).