How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

Tool 24

Aim of the tool
To help participants consider what kind of change strategies are being used in the MSP, and which strategies might be missing.

When to use it?
This tool can be used in different stages of an MSP, but particularly at a moment when strategies for change are discussed. It helps to generate conversations which bring out essence of participants’ notions of change.

What is the Four Quadrants of Change Framework?

People easily get into arguments about “correct strategies” to realize change. Often with a little bit of dialogue, they discover that they are actually talking about complementary strategies. Then they start to understand the limitation of their own advocated strategy, and that it cannot succeed on its own. These types of insights spurred Ken Wilber to popularize an integral approach to support a comprehensive and integrated view of the world.

A key product of this work is what is now referred to as the “four-quadrants of change” (4Q) diagram, which will help you identify and address the different aspects of change. The framework divides the change into four types: Quadrant 1 deals with intention, personal identity, and ways of perceiving; Quadrant 2 with behaviour and how it is developed; Quadrant 3 with culture, beliefs, and values; and Quadrant 4 with the structures and processes of social systems. The framework suggests that a successful strategy must address all four change challenges.

In order for an issue to change in the way MSPs aspire for, there must be action in all four Quadrants. That does not mean that the MSP itself has to lead the activity. However, to realize the change it is working for, its participants or others should undertake strategic interventions to ensure change is proceeding in all the Quadrants. Lack of change in one of the Quadrants will hold back development in the others.

There is a tendency for change networks to focus on the exterior, both at the individual but especially at the collective levels. There is usually resistance to incorporating spiritual-psychological strategies, because this can conflict with the external action-orientation of most networks to get others to change and to focus on, physical technology, structural and intellectual change. Also, inappropriate methods are often applied for a particular change challenge and goal. You might find this a good tool for analyzing your own change strategy.

How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

Four Quadrants of Change – Step by step

This framework can be used both for individual reflection or stock-taking, and as a group analysis activity.

As a researcher involved in action learning on MSPs, you could use it once you are familiar with your MSP case to consider what kind of change strategies are being used, and which strategies might be missing.

As a group activity, use the Framework to help participants reflect on the question: ‘Where would be your entry point for change?’.

  • If you have a group of e.g. 15 people make sure you have a space of 5×5 meters in your meeting room without tables or chairs, or do the activity outside.
  • Write four A4 sheets of paper with the following words (one word each): ‘Personal’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Cultural’ and ‘Structure/System’. Place these on the floor in a square.
  • Ask participants the question: Where would be your entry point for change? And ask everybody to position themselves near the A4 with the word corresponding to their answer. People can stand in between different words if they feel that represents their view better.
  • Ask various participants, while standing, to explain why they stand where they are standing. Make sure you take a couple of responses from different corners of the space, and encourage people to ask questions to one another. It is allowed to change position whilst somebody else is talking.
  • End with explaining that in complex systems (such as most MSPs) change is needed at all different levels, and that there is not one right position. Your own preference might differ depending on your background or position in the system. However, emphasize the importance of working with change strategies at all quadrants.

Alternatively, if time and space are limited, you could consider presenting the framework on one slide and asking the same question to open up discussion with participants.

A second way of leading groups to analyse change strategies using Wilber’s framework is to ask small groups to apply it to their MSP case, by filling out the four quadrants on a flipchart and giving concrete examples of entry point for change within this MSP.

Learn more

Wilber, Ken (2000) A brief history of everything. Revised edition. Boulder, Colorado: Shambala Publishing

Waddell, Steve (2011) Global Action Networks: Creating Our Future Together. New York/London: Palgrave Macmillan/Bocconi University Press.

Over the course of #WellnessWednesday, Phil Dobson has brought us a series of videos designed to help us sustain our performance over time.

But, all of the benefits that we can reap through these videos will only happen if we make behavioural changes.

It is not willpower that builds a habit, it’s having a formula that works.

The formula for successful habit formation:

Step 1 – Identify the goal, what is the habit you want to instil?

Step 2 – Identify the smallest version of your desired habit

Step 3 – Now identify all of your existing daily habits

Step 4 – Pair your desired new habit with your most appropriate existing habit

Step 5 – Celebrate your success

Share this library of resources with anyone you know who may benefit!

Phil Dobson

Phil Dobson is the author of The Brain Book and Founder of BrainWorkshops. Based in London, Phil’s background is in psychology and hypnotherapy and he now works with businesses helping leaders improve their performance at work by applying what we know about the brain. In his spare time he loves to write and produces music. His guitar playing is influenced by the blues and his production style is influenced by electronic and dance music. He also loves to surf and does so wherever and whenever he can.

Coda is a registered trademark (1998978) of The Trustee for Critical Care Education Trust which is approved by the ACNC as a registered charity | ABN 32 381 598 200

Simon Finfer is a Pom who emigrated to Australia in 1993 to practice full time intensive care medicine. Despite being qualified 37 years and receiving an NHS pension he still works as a bedside clinician and takes night call. He loves his job because he works with fantastic people. He also designs and runs large clinical trials, writes paper, edits books and rides a 2017 Triumph Bonneville T120. He supports West Ham United and the English Cricket, Football and Rugby teams. He lives in Sydney with his wife, sons, two horses, four chickens, 3 ducks and one dog. Twitter handle is @icuresearch.

Dr Doug Lynch is a Critical Care Doctor. He has trained in multiple “specialties”; anaesthetics, emergency, intensive care, aeromedical retrieval, history of art, law, luggage making, public health and remote area medicine.
He describes himself as a “Generalist” in the medical world and in most other worlds too. In each of the areas that he has worked Doug has gravitated towards education.
He is the former state-wide education officer for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section). He is a dedicated supporter of and a contributor to the “#FOAMed” movement. FOAMed stands for Free Open Access Medical Education.
He has recorded hundreds of educational podcasts and has recently started The Institute of Enquiring Minds with Dr Andrew Jacobs in Melbourne, Australia.

How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

Measurement in and of itself is necessary but not sufficient. When someone performs well or poorly, your job is to involve the employee (coaching habit #3) in finding out why so he/she can either double down on the causes of good performance or change the causes of poor performance.

Most leaders tend to focus their critique, feedback and training on symptoms rather than the root cause of poor performance. It ends up wasting time and resources. If you directly address the root cause, you will see immediate results. The fastest way to identify the cause is to closely observe performance, the work system and ask questions (coaching habit #2).

To get a more complete picture of performance, measure your team members’ results and behavior (coaching habit #4). Achieving the performance standard on one of them is necessary but not sufficient to be a reliable performer. Getting results is great, but they will not be sustainable without the right behaviors.

Wrong behaviors include being a poor teammate by not sharing information and resources, acting inconsistently with team and organizational values or disregarding agreed-to job processes (e.g., conducting quality checks, making “X” number of calls, using prescribed materials). Any of these behaviors put at risk the reliability of your team’s results. On the other hand, acceptable behaviors do not necessarily guarantee results, so measuring both is key to continually improving your team’s reliability.

You get the behaviors you are willing to tolerate. If you rank your team by performance level, your lowest performer is a public statement of the performance level you are willing to tolerate. That is what your team sees as your performance standard. Ignoring issues puts your team and your leadership credibility at risk. A small molehill-sized issue today that takes five minutes to proactively address can quickly expand into a mountain-sized matter that requires five days or more to resolve. Unaddressed performance matters do not just go away; instead, they eventually rear their heads in uglier ways.

Picture a 2 x 2 matrix with Results (low to high) on the vertical axis and Behaviors (negative to positive) in the horizontal axis). Each of the four combinations of measuring results and behaviors affect your coaching approach.

Quadrant 1 is the employee whose results are up to standard, but whose behavior is not. These are the trickiest coaching situations because the employee is delivering results but his/her behavior is creating risk for the team. Focus on their behavioral motivations and be clear that you have an “and/both” not an “either/or” expectation; results and behaviors must meet standard. This is where some leaders put their integrity at risk – by tolerating the bull in the china shop because he delivers results, even though it might put the team and future reliability at risk.

Quadrant 2 employees are your stars, delivering results and doing it the right way. Encourage and look for opportunities to expand this employee’s responsibilities and influence.

Quadrant 3 employees are not well suited for the role; so after appropriate coaching and support with no improvement on either performance dimension, don’t waste time moving them out. Make your personnel decisions with rationality, but implement them with humanity.

Coach Quadrant 4 employees on the skills and tools needed to deliver results. They are likely willing to learn since they are already meeting your behavior standards. That said, be clear and specific with your language and improvement expectations. Keep it simple with the 3W format that we discussed in the Explain chapter – What needs to improve, who is responsible and by when?

There’s a phrase – The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. When employees understand what the main thing is and have a clear concept of what is required of them, measurements can become their friends. Measurements are encouraging and validating to high-performing employees and provide an objective case to improve for lower-performing employees.

Over the course of #WellnessWednesday, Phil Dobson has brought us a series of videos designed to help us sustain our performance over time.

But, all of the benefits that we can reap through these videos will only happen if we make behavioural changes.

It is not willpower that builds a habit, it’s having a formula that works.

The formula for successful habit formation:

Step 1 – Identify the goal, what is the habit you want to instil?

Step 2 – Identify the smallest version of your desired habit

Step 3 – Now identify all of your existing daily habits

Step 4 – Pair your desired new habit with your most appropriate existing habit

Step 5 – Celebrate your success

Share this library of resources with anyone you know who may benefit!

Phil Dobson

Phil Dobson is the author of The Brain Book and Founder of BrainWorkshops. Based in London, Phil’s background is in psychology and hypnotherapy and he now works with businesses helping leaders improve their performance at work by applying what we know about the brain. In his spare time he loves to write and produces music. His guitar playing is influenced by the blues and his production style is influenced by electronic and dance music. He also loves to surf and does so wherever and whenever he can.

Coda is a registered trademark (1998978) of The Trustee for Critical Care Education Trust which is approved by the ACNC as a registered charity | ABN 32 381 598 200

Simon Finfer is a Pom who emigrated to Australia in 1993 to practice full time intensive care medicine. Despite being qualified 37 years and receiving an NHS pension he still works as a bedside clinician and takes night call. He loves his job because he works with fantastic people. He also designs and runs large clinical trials, writes paper, edits books and rides a 2017 Triumph Bonneville T120. He supports West Ham United and the English Cricket, Football and Rugby teams. He lives in Sydney with his wife, sons, two horses, four chickens, 3 ducks and one dog. Twitter handle is @icuresearch.

Dr Doug Lynch is a Critical Care Doctor. He has trained in multiple “specialties”; anaesthetics, emergency, intensive care, aeromedical retrieval, history of art, law, luggage making, public health and remote area medicine.
He describes himself as a “Generalist” in the medical world and in most other worlds too. In each of the areas that he has worked Doug has gravitated towards education.
He is the former state-wide education officer for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section). He is a dedicated supporter of and a contributor to the “#FOAMed” movement. FOAMed stands for Free Open Access Medical Education.
He has recorded hundreds of educational podcasts and has recently started The Institute of Enquiring Minds with Dr Andrew Jacobs in Melbourne, Australia.

How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

Changing bad habits into better ones is something we all want to do.

Consider your time management. How many minutes do you feel are wasted each day because of the way you habitually run your life?

If you’re less than satisfied with the honest answer to that one, perhaps its time to consider how your habits affect your work-life balance.

  • Does a constantly messy desk affect how you work at it?
  • Is a looming deadline the only way to get your work done?
  • Can you find what you want fast?
  • Is your inbox out of control?
  • Do you tend to make excuses not to do the things that you know really matter?

Changing bad habits into better ones is the key to spending more time on important stuff that is so easily ignored and less time on ‘busy’ work that is so tempting to tick off but gets you nowhere.

“There are two kinds of habits: those that serve you, and those that don’t.”

– Jeff Olson

Forming a habit that serves you takes time, or, more accurately, plenty of repetitive action for it to take root in your life.

Here are four strategies to successfully break your bad habits and replace them with those that support a more effective and efficient way to live and work:

1. Focus on changing bad habits one at a time

Changing bad habits takes awareness and concentration, but this can soon become diluted if you attempt to tackle more than one at a time.

Within the realms of reality, focus your efforts on the one habit you’ve decided to change, and see it through to the end. (See below for an explanation of ‘the end’.)

For example, let’s say you want to improve your time management at work (who doesn’t?). Narrow it down so you deal with one issue, such as managing interruptions.

2. Become aware of it

You need to know it’s a bad habit before you can replace it.

How do you do this?

Well, a little thought and reflection go a long way, but the bottom line is the results you’re getting. For better or worse, what we experience is the result of what we repeatedly do.

Analyze the effects of your way of working. Try keeping a time log to help you identify how you use your time.

Another strategy for raising awareness is to simply ask others.

Who knows you well enough to identify how your habits harm you? Ask them if you dare!

You have to recognize that a habit is harmful. If you don’t, what reason will there be to change anything?

If changing bad habits matters to you, accepting that you choose to do it, whether it’s a conscious choice or not, is crucial to the process.

3. Decide to replace it

So you have decided to ditch a habit. What do you want to replace it with?

Of course, we all have bad habits we’re aware of — it’s just that, for some reason, we keep repeating them.

For example, one that I personally struggle with is habitually going to bed later than I know is good for me.

If I want to break the late habit, I need to know the latest time that I can go to bed and function well the next day.

Crystal clear clarity about what you want to do instead is crucial — apply some personal goal setting strategies to help you build a better habit.

4. Commit to your decision. cleverly

You’ve identified a bad habit and you know what you want to do instead.

Now comes the hard part.

As anybody who has joined a gym in January knows, motivation will wane. Passion, desire and good intentions all fan the flames at first, but. well, we’re human.

With the best will in the world, we’re all lazy at times.

Bottom line here?

To break a bad habit and substitute it with something better starts with a desire for change, but it takes the slow burn of self-discipline, willpower and commitment to see you through the inevitable difficulties.

Your chances of successfully changing bad habits are significantly increased if you don’t make ittoo difficult to do.

For example, say you want to wake up early consistently. If you usually get up at 8am, setting yourself a goal to get up at 5am every day from tomorrow isn’t going to happen.

Be realistic, and try the three methods outlined below.

Putting it in to practice

To create a good habit, here are three methods that will leverage your initial motivation:

1) Change gradually

Trying to do too much too soon is often a recipe for failure.

It’s not always necessary (or wise) to completely change a habit in one go, as the example above explains.

The main advantage is that you don’t feel overwhelmed with the burden of expectation. Break your challenge down into manageable chunks to reduce the resistance you feel.

2) Do it daily

Whatever new habit you want to form, doing it consistently is crucial. A good way to ensure you do this is to create a ‘dot link’ page. Every day you ‘do’ your new habit, join the dots.

Here’s one you can download and print:

If you miss a day, don’t give up — pick up again at the first opportunity to do so.

3) Put a limit on it

The thought of changing bad habits permanently can be overwhelming. It’s often too hard to keep going, or to even start in the first place.

One way round this is to trial a habit for a set length of time, the point being that a limit on your commitment to take daily action doesn’t ‘hurt’ so much.

After the trial period you can go back to your old ways if things didn’t work out.

The key word in that last sentence? After.

Commit to your new habit change — it’s only temporary, right?

A temporary trial may have numerous benefits for changing bad habits, but it’s still a trial.

Even though it’s a relatively short time period, and you should instigate easy changes at first, you can almost certainly expect something to happen that will make it hard to keep going. That’s the point at which self discipline will see you through.

Choose a habit to break and replace, make it easy for yourself to implement it, commit to forming it for a limited time, and you’ll have formed a better habit.

We all have them — bad habits that we wish we didn’t have but feel pessimistic about changing. Maybe you know you really have to spend less time on Facebook or playing online games. Or perhaps you’ve tried a dozen times to quit smoking. Or maybe even thinking about getting more exercise makes you feel too tired to start. Whatever habit you’re trying to break, somehow you haven’t found the key to success.

Search no more. Bad habits can be broken. Really. Here are 7 tips from the researchers who research such things:

1. Cut yourself some slack. Habits are hard to change because, well, they’re habits. There’s a reason why they are hard to break. We actually need most of the habits we have. We go through most of our days engaging in good habits, routines and activities. If we didn’t, everything we did every day would be something we’d have to think about. Instead, we’re wired to learn and put in place activities that sustain us without giving it a moment’s thought.

From the time you stumble into the bathroom in the morning to wash your face to your drive to work where you have a “habit” of following traffic rules, to your routines as you go through your workday to kicking off your shoes when you get back to the house, you are on autopilot a fair amount of the time. That frees your mind and your energy for new situations and new problems that require new decisions, creativity and actions. Unfortunately, the brain really doesn’t discriminate between the bad habits and the good ones. Once a routine is sorted into the “automatic” category, it’s hard to get it back out.

2. Identify the underlying cause. All habits have a function. The habit of brushing your teeth every morning prevents trips to the dentist. The habit of checking your email first thing at work helps you organize your day. Bad habits are no different. They too have a function.

Mindless eating can be a way to comfort yourself when you’re feeling down. Cruising the Internet for hours might be a way you avoid interacting with your partner or kids. Smoking (in addition to being just plain addictive) may be a way to take time out to pause and think. Drinking too much may be the only way you know how to be social. If you want to break the habit, you have to come to grips with whatever function the bad habit is serving.

3. Deal with the real problem. Sometimes dealing is relatively easy. If snacking on junk food all afternoon is a compensation for not eating lunch, it’s obvious that the function of eating whatever is in the vending machine is to satisfy hunger. Your “habit” is telling you that you really do need to stop and take the 15 minutes to have lunch. But if your time on video games is your way to stay out of fights with your partner, it may be painful to face how dysfunctional your relationship has in fact become.

Even if it makes you feel guilty and bad about yourself for having a bad habit, you are not likely to stop it unless you come up with another way to deal with its function. Something positive has to be put in its place. Positive can mean pleasant — like eating that lunch instead of skipping it to forage in the vending machine later. Positive can also be painful but important — like dealing with your feelings instead of stuffing them down with food, or getting into therapy with your partner instead of numbing your problems away with video games or alcohol or weed.

4. Write it down. There’s something about committing a promise to paper that makes that promise more real. Researchers have found that just writing out a goal and keeping it handy to look at every day (or as many times as day as you need to) can help you stay on track. So write down your promise to yourself and read it before every meal and at bedtime. That’s a prescription that has no side effects and is likely to help.

5. Get yourself a buddy. There’s a reason that many recovery programs include group meetings and individual sponsors or therapists. Being accountable to others is a powerful incentive to keep on keeping on. By both giving and receiving support, you keep the goal in focus. Working with an individual sponsor or counselor can help you deal with the basis of your bad habit and find positive, healthy ways to take care of yourself instead. Being accountable to a friend (in person or virtual) helps you just stay on track.

6. Give yourself enough time. Conventional wisdom is that it takes 28 days to get free of a bad habit. Unfortunately, that notion is just plain wrong. Bad habits are hard to break because they are Habits (with a capital H). Remember: your brain has put your bad habit in the “automatic” category. Once there, it’s difficult to shake it free.

Yes, some people can get a good jumpstart in 28 days. But current research shows that most of us need about three months to substitute a new behavior for a bad habit. Some people need longer. Some people need to find a gentle but powerful way to stick with the project for the rest of their lives. It depends on the habit, your personality, your level of stress, and the supports you have in place.

7. Allow for slips. You won’t be perfect. Almost everyone slips up. It’s only human. But it’s not a reason to give up. A slip provides you with information. It tells you what kinds of stressors push you off your good intentions. It tells you what you might need to change in order to stay on track. Think hard about why you slipped and get back on board. Tomorrow is another day.

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How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

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How to change a habit with the four quadrants of change

Changing bad habits into better ones is something we all want to do.

Consider your time management. How many minutes do you feel are wasted each day because of the way you habitually run your life?

If you’re less than satisfied with the honest answer to that one, perhaps its time to consider how your habits affect your work-life balance.

  • Does a constantly messy desk affect how you work at it?
  • Is a looming deadline the only way to get your work done?
  • Can you find what you want fast?
  • Is your inbox out of control?
  • Do you tend to make excuses not to do the things that you know really matter?

Changing bad habits into better ones is the key to spending more time on important stuff that is so easily ignored and less time on ‘busy’ work that is so tempting to tick off but gets you nowhere.

“There are two kinds of habits: those that serve you, and those that don’t.”

– Jeff Olson

Forming a habit that serves you takes time, or, more accurately, plenty of repetitive action for it to take root in your life.

Here are four strategies to successfully break your bad habits and replace them with those that support a more effective and efficient way to live and work:

1. Focus on changing bad habits one at a time

Changing bad habits takes awareness and concentration, but this can soon become diluted if you attempt to tackle more than one at a time.

Within the realms of reality, focus your efforts on the one habit you’ve decided to change, and see it through to the end. (See below for an explanation of ‘the end’.)

For example, let’s say you want to improve your time management at work (who doesn’t?). Narrow it down so you deal with one issue, such as managing interruptions.

2. Become aware of it

You need to know it’s a bad habit before you can replace it.

How do you do this?

Well, a little thought and reflection go a long way, but the bottom line is the results you’re getting. For better or worse, what we experience is the result of what we repeatedly do.

Analyze the effects of your way of working. Try keeping a time log to help you identify how you use your time.

Another strategy for raising awareness is to simply ask others.

Who knows you well enough to identify how your habits harm you? Ask them if you dare!

You have to recognize that a habit is harmful. If you don’t, what reason will there be to change anything?

If changing bad habits matters to you, accepting that you choose to do it, whether it’s a conscious choice or not, is crucial to the process.

3. Decide to replace it

So you have decided to ditch a habit. What do you want to replace it with?

Of course, we all have bad habits we’re aware of — it’s just that, for some reason, we keep repeating them.

For example, one that I personally struggle with is habitually going to bed later than I know is good for me.

If I want to break the late habit, I need to know the latest time that I can go to bed and function well the next day.

Crystal clear clarity about what you want to do instead is crucial — apply some personal goal setting strategies to help you build a better habit.

4. Commit to your decision. cleverly

You’ve identified a bad habit and you know what you want to do instead.

Now comes the hard part.

As anybody who has joined a gym in January knows, motivation will wane. Passion, desire and good intentions all fan the flames at first, but. well, we’re human.

With the best will in the world, we’re all lazy at times.

Bottom line here?

To break a bad habit and substitute it with something better starts with a desire for change, but it takes the slow burn of self-discipline, willpower and commitment to see you through the inevitable difficulties.

Your chances of successfully changing bad habits are significantly increased if you don’t make ittoo difficult to do.

For example, say you want to wake up early consistently. If you usually get up at 8am, setting yourself a goal to get up at 5am every day from tomorrow isn’t going to happen.

Be realistic, and try the three methods outlined below.

Putting it in to practice

To create a good habit, here are three methods that will leverage your initial motivation:

1) Change gradually

Trying to do too much too soon is often a recipe for failure.

It’s not always necessary (or wise) to completely change a habit in one go, as the example above explains.

The main advantage is that you don’t feel overwhelmed with the burden of expectation. Break your challenge down into manageable chunks to reduce the resistance you feel.

2) Do it daily

Whatever new habit you want to form, doing it consistently is crucial. A good way to ensure you do this is to create a ‘dot link’ page. Every day you ‘do’ your new habit, join the dots.

Here’s one you can download and print:

If you miss a day, don’t give up — pick up again at the first opportunity to do so.

3) Put a limit on it

The thought of changing bad habits permanently can be overwhelming. It’s often too hard to keep going, or to even start in the first place.

One way round this is to trial a habit for a set length of time, the point being that a limit on your commitment to take daily action doesn’t ‘hurt’ so much.

After the trial period you can go back to your old ways if things didn’t work out.

The key word in that last sentence? After.

Commit to your new habit change — it’s only temporary, right?

A temporary trial may have numerous benefits for changing bad habits, but it’s still a trial.

Even though it’s a relatively short time period, and you should instigate easy changes at first, you can almost certainly expect something to happen that will make it hard to keep going. That’s the point at which self discipline will see you through.

Choose a habit to break and replace, make it easy for yourself to implement it, commit to forming it for a limited time, and you’ll have formed a better habit.

How mindfulness and a rewarding routine can help us develop good habits that last.

  • By Carley Hauck
  • October 28, 2015
  • Well-Being

How to change a habit with the four quadrants of changeblas/Dollar Photo Club

Do you have a habit that you can’t change no matter what you have tried? For the last decade, I have worked as a teacher, coach, and consultant with companies. The subject of what drives and sustains change internally and socially fascinates me. I can say with absolute confidence that I know the steps to change a habit for good. These four tried and tested steps all start with the M word, Mindfulness.

Step 1: Mindfulness

What are habits? Habits are behaviors that become automatic because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition or automaticity creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behavior).

Automaticity is the opposite of mindfulness. Research suggests that 45% of our behaviors are repeated almost daily (1).

Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment. When mindfulness is present, we can see our thoughts, feelings, motivations, reactions, and responses with greater clarity and wisdom. We can pause before reacting and choose the appropriate response for the moment we are in.

Step 2: Train your mind, change your behavior

Before we can change our behavior, we have to get to know our brains a bit better. We can map out an unpleasant experience in this four-step process:

Situation- Thought- Feeling- Behavior

Situation – I have a meeting.

Thought – “I don’t like this meeting.”

Feeling – anger, frustration, anxiety

Behavior – I go to the meeting, but feel agitated and checked out the whole time. I go to the vending machine right after the meeting and get a sugary fatty snack food. Now, I have a habit.

In my work with organizations, I hear the above example over and over. We distract from the unpleasant feelings by reactively choosing something more pleasant. This quick fix is ultimately not rewarding, but we keep choosing it automatically. With mindfulness and seeing our habit clearly, we have the power to change it.

Step 3: Implement a NEW rewarding routine

Situation – I have a meeting.

Thought – “I don’t like this meeting, but I know it is important for me to be there.”

Feeling – ease, contentment

Behavior – I go to the meeting with an attitude of receptivity. I also make a plan to go for a walk after the meeting as a reward.

We change our habits by changing our routine to a new rewarding one.

By looking closely at our thoughts and how this impacts our behavior, we can change our thoughts and also change our routine to something with a more long-term reward. We often remain in a cycle of unhealthy patterns because we believe that they are rewarding us. When we look closely, we see that many of our habits are NOT very rewarding. A walk is much more rewarding in the long-run than emotional eating.

Step 4: Create a compassionate action plan

Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, has shown in her research that we often think we need to “beat ourselves into shape,” but the opposite is actually true. The research shows that when we have a critical thought, our nervous system goes into fight/flight/freeze and from this place we can only respond from our reptilian brain (we are in survival mode). From a place of fight/flight/freeze we are unable to see the bigger picture, be creative or compassionate toward the perceived stressor. Criticism makes us feel more anxious, more depressed, and more afraid of failure. However, compassion is the antidote to criticism and in my opinion the greatest motivator for change.

What negative or critical thought gets in the way of your creating this new routine?

  • “I will never exercise.”
  • “I don’t have the willpower.”
  • “I don’t have enough time.”
  • “I am not smart enough to get the promotion.”

Since we know that many of our thoughts are NOT true, change it around to something more empowering.

  • “ I know that with consistent effort I can find time to exercise.”
  • “ I had a difficult week and I still finished the project and got rave reviews.”
  • “ I am highly intelligent and can do anything I set my mind to.”

Out of the critical or compassionate thoughts, which type encourages you to move forward? The compassionate thought.

Do you notice the difference? Once we can be compassionate in our thinking, we can figure out the next best step we can take. It is important to understand your readiness for change. For example, if you are in stage 3, preparation, you may still have some resistance to change because you are getting ready and will likely go into action within a month.

On your path to create change invite compassion and embrace and accept where you are. Only from a place of compassion will your efforts move into fruition. What is the next compassionate step you can make towards this change today?