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Behavioural Change: How to make changes stick?

As the new year starts, many of us adopt resolutions to try and improve in some way. When making any change in behaviour, it is important to think it through: why are you changing your behaviour and how are you going to do it?

For our example, we’ll take a look at behavioural change behind learning a new language This takes a varied approach. Repetitive practice and exposure are two of the most common methods. To do this typically requires a person to change their behaviour, stepping out of their comfort zone to put their newly gained knowledge into practice. Too often, people are not willing to actually adapt their behaviour in support of their efforts, making it only harder on themselves. Behaviour is habitual. Change is a process, not a one-off. 

The theories behind behaviour

Understanding the scientific theories behind behaviour helps put the process into perspective. For a long time, behaviourism was the prevailing theory in the psychological study of behavioural change. This limited view suggested that all behaviours are learned through interactions with an environment. Since then, the field has grown to recognise the complexity of human behaviour. This change comes in the form of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. Put simply he says that we learn by watching, listening, and doing. This includes learning a new behaviour. 

How to change behaviour

Want to make a change? First ask some questions: Why are you changing? Is it voluntary? Is there any resistance? What do you expect to be your strengths and weaknesses in this process? Reflecting on these questions will create a mindful connection with the motivation behind the change. This helps uncover the potential risks and rewards that might be found in the behavioural change process. 

By understanding the barriers that might be seen in the behavioural change process allows for the development of planned interventions and rewards. Social learning offers incentives in itself. When a feedback session is implemented motivation is not only impacted, but progress is monitored. Beyond the maintenance of motivation, there is an added benefit of generating awareness for any changes needed, and doing so in a timely manner. 

When someone is attempting to implement a change that takes a lot of time, interventions are necessary. For example, learning a language takes a long time, because of this the general motivation of becoming fluent is not enough to keep motivation high during the process. Finding small and recurring motivations are key to sustained engagement with the language.

Make it small. Break the planned change down into smaller pieces. Not only does this allow for small wins, which have a positive impact on motivation, but it also makes it much less daunting. Additionally, and maybe most important, breaking a change into smaller pieces increases the chance of sustained change. Mindfully breaking the process up offers the added benefits of planned interventions. 

Practice makes perfect. Cliche, yes, but accurate. Don’t stop once you’ve achieved the desired change. Just like with language, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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