The Process of Change

Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon


The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” -Socrates

The process of changing one’s behaviors is complex; it is not one and done—behavioral change is an iterative process. It is a dynamic cycle where desire and motivation are the prerequisites to change, self-reflection facilitates progress, and social influences sway interest and support change. It is focused on not only discarding a previous habit—it is also concentrated on the development and creation of new, more functional ones.

The earlier post this month (ref link talks to the stages of change. Within each of these stages, we are continually evaluating and being asked to develop a new way of being, while separating ourselves from a previous habit or routine.

Change is a function of both internal and external conditions in one’s social and physical environment. There are three key drivers of behavioral change:

  • Motivation- the internal process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors; this can be intrinsic or extrinsic. 
  • Capability– having the skills and ability necessary to complete a task or assignment or to meet the goal; this is internal.
  • Opportunity– the external conditions or set of circumstances that make something possible.

An intervention is the process that causes the change to occur. Interventions can include education, incentivization, environmental restructuring, and modeling. Tying these back to the key drivers, it is important to highlight the intention in each intervention. One may work for improving one’s capability, others focus on increasing motivation, while some are suitable for modifying external opportunities, or a combination of all three. At some parts of the process, one may need support in boosting their motivation, and perhaps education may help to achieve that. However, along the way, one may also find that the external environment needs to be modified to maintain the behavior. Finally, one may realize that they need some further training to improve their capability, as they have plateaued in their development and started to lose motivation.

Successful change requires consistency over time and commitment. Once you have made changes, it may be hard to maintain them.  Research has shown that sustaining behavior change is at times more difficult than the original initiation of change. When you have a long-term goal in mind, self-control is what you need daily to choose actions, which take you towards that goal, rather than going for short-term rewards that often cause drift from the desired direction. Therefore, it is important to prioritize your goals to ease your daily decision-making and make it less effortful.

Your tenacious pursuit of long-term goals even in the face of setbacks over a long period of time is the ticket to succeeding—as you keep pursuing your goals, you will most likely have to endure setbacks and overcome obstacles at some stage. Rather than being surprised and thrown off course when they arise, be prepared with a ready strategy in mind.

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