Become a behaviour change expert: Part 5 – comparison with others


Welcome to Part 5 of ‘Becoming a Behaviour Change Expert’.

It has actually been a really long time since I wrote the last entry of this series (2018) but I haven’t forgotten about it.

It was this series that inspired the handout called “Building New Habits” which you can access here.

As a quick reminder, in this series I am looking at the different skills and techniques that you can use if you want to make changes in your life. Changes like getting more exercise, meditating regularly, eating better, establishing new study habits, being more productive and looking after your general wellbeing.

I was inspired to write this series after realising that most of us want to make significant changes in our lives, but have never been specifically taught how to do it. For example, we’re all told that we should eat healthier and get more exercise, but when it comes to actually making that happen, it can sometimes be more difficult than we realise.

Thankfully, health psychologists have been studying this kind of thing for years and have identified the kinds of strategies used by people who successfully make these kinds of healthy changes.

In Part 1, I looked at how to set goals, that is, how to plan your behaviour change.

In Part 2, I looked at how to monitor your progress towards your goals.

In Part 3, I looked at how you can use the support of other people to help you make a change.

In Part 4, I looked at how you build your confidence to make changes.

In this post (Part 5), I look at how observing and comparing yourself to others can provide the motivation required to make important changes in your life.


Find observable examples of the desired change in others

Let’s say that you want to improve your diet by reducing your sugar intake.

As part of that process, you’ll probably go online and read the stories of other people who have tried to, or successfully made that change.

Remember though to look amongst your friends, family, colleagues and peers for anyone who has made a similar change. This might involve a Facebook post asking if anyone has tried making this change.

If you find people in your social circle who have made the change, consider trying to mimic the strategies that they used (use them as a role model). Draw on their experience if they are willing to share. Most people, who have successfully made a healthy lifestyle change are willing to share with others how they did it (we all like to show-off a bit).

There are a few ways this strategy can be helpful.

  1. you learn from someone who has already successfully made the change
  2. you gain an ally in your efforts to change
  3. you gain someone to whom you can be accountable in your efforts to change



Social data/statistics

Let’s look at a different example – this time you want to get more exercise.

Go online and see if you can find some statistics on the numbers/proportions of people getting the recommended amount of exercise per day.

You might find this data from the Department of Health:

55.5% of 18-64 year olds participated in sufficient physical activity in the last week (more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or more than 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, including walking).

Nearly one in three (29.7%) 18-64 year olds were insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes in the last week) while 14.8% were inactive (no exercise in the last week). These were similar to proportions in 2011-12 (54.5%, 29.4% and 16.0% respectively).”

Essentially, only half of us are getting sufficient exercise per week.

Use this knowledge to put your own desired changes into perspective.

If you find out that most people are already engaging in the behaviour you want to change, it might reassure you that the behaviour isn’t too hard to implement.

If you find out that most people aren’t already engaging in the behaviour you want to change, it might alert you to how much of an achievement it would be to make that change.

In the exercise example above, those figures tell me that if I were able to get my exercise up to the recommended levels, it would be a significant achievement.


Take special note of the approval from others

The approval of others is a powerful motivator.

You don’t need to gloat endlessly about positive changes you’ve made, but it is valid to share this information with your social circle.

In the process you may:

a) inspire others to make similar changes

b) get positive feedback and encouragement from people that will help you maintain your changes

c) hear from others who also made the change and be able to exchange stories on how you did it

d) find yourself accepted into a sub-set of your social circle that values that particular health change

The underlying idea here is that it is valid to share your stories of positive change and that the congratulations and encouragement received from others is often a more powerful reward than any rewards you could give to yourself.

The need to belong is a powerful motivator and making positive changes in our own life and sharing that with others is a way to attract to you, similarly motivated people. You end up being surrounded by people with similar goals.

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