How can I coach myself in bringing about a behavior change?

Mia Redrick

A plan to change a behavior needs to involve action. You can write down what it is you plan to change, but the plan needs to include an action. The action plan also needs to specifically designate when you plan to take this action. The more specific you are, the better your chance of success.

People tend to avoid doing the things they don't want to do. It sounds overly simple but there is a remedy to this. Enroll the people in your life. Include an element to your plan that will hold you accountable, whether it's your girlfriends or your significant other, make sure there is someone in your life who will ask you: "How's that change coming?"

First, make a list of all the reasons you want to change and all the possible positive outcomes when you do. So, for example, if you want to lose weight your list might start with things like being able to breathe easier when you walk through the grocery store, or being able to fit into nicer clothes. But keep your list going until you get into more value driven thoughts. For example, I want to be a good influence on my daughter. I want my family to be proud of me. I want to be a happy and healthy grandmother when my own children start a family of their own.

Next, make a list of the potential problems if you don’t. “I will not be able to control my blood pressure.” “I will be uncomfortable playing outdoors with my children”.

Then, create a strategy to accomplish your goals. Involve the people closest to you and ask them to help you.
Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine
Even if you have a trainer or fitness coach helping you change your behavior, the most important voice you will hear during the change process is your own. In fact, research has shown that people speak to themselves at a rate of 800-1400 words a minute!! Although we may not be conscious of this ongoing chatter in our head, these words often trigger pictures that affect our emotions. This is really important to understand because behavior change can be a very emotional process and you need to be able to coach yourself through its ups and downs. Learning to control you’re self-talk or your inner chatter is a vital skill if your emotions are going to work for, rather than against, you. Here are a couple of practical suggestions to help you coach yourself.

Practice positive self-talk. It is important to understand that what we say to ourselves, our self-talk or inner voice, trigger images in our minds that affect our emotions and behavior. For example, change your “I can’t” statements to “I can when I/provided I.”  Change “if only” or “I hope” to “When I.” Learning to control your self-talk will help you develop a positive mind-set about your behavior change and increase your chances of success.

Develop a list of affirmation statements. These are statements designed to be both aspirational and inspirational. To start with, choose 4 statements such as “I am a healthy eater,” “I will be a physically active person,” and repeat them four times, three or four different times per day. You may find them a little awkward at first but stick with them, as they will help you in the development of a positive mindset.  Another good idea is to post your affirmations in places where you will see often so that they are a constant reminder of who you want to be as a person.

Kate Myerson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Having someone around that can help make you accountable is a good first step.

Then think about what changes you want to make. Ask yourself if these goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) For example: I might want to lose weight as my goal but that is not specific enough to get me to make any change. I might want to lose 100 pounds but it is not realistic in the short term unless I break it down into manageable specific steps. A SMART goal might be; lose 5 pounds each month by walking 30 minutes 5 days a week and choosing fruits and vegetables as snacks and one serving at each meal, and I will do this for 3 months. If I want to lose 100 pounds I can reevaluate my goal in in 3 months because there will be other goals to set to get there. 

Kelly Traver
Internal Medicine

Becoming your own best coach is probably the most helpful thing you can do for yourself in life, as well as when you are working on a behavior change:

  • A good coach helps you develop resilience; this is especially important as you work on behavior change. Setbacks and failures are not necessarily bad; they are part of the process. Setbacks can make you stronger. As you learn and grow and begin to change, of course you will hit bumps in the road. Everybody does. You will inevitably fall from time to time, but falling down and getting right back up are an essential part of the learning process. Through it, you learn how to be resilient.
  • Another important coaching skill is the ability to reframe the way you look at a situation so that you can see it in a positive light. I'm not suggesting that you be unrealistic in a bad situation, but in everything that happens to us there is something positive - even in the toughest times.
  • As you coach yourself, understand that the biggest driving force for change must come from within you, not from external forces. Just as you can't force other people to change, neither can anyone force you to change. Your family and friends can certainly be influential in helping you, but that's all they can do. The real work has to come from you. Change does not happen overnight; it comes in stages.
  • A good coach helps you find the things you can change and work around the things you cannot. For example, you can optimize your immediate environment so that it has a positive influence on your behavior.
  • A good coach recognizes that you are unique and that different strategies work for different people. The trick here is to find what works for you in your own individual way.
  • A good coach encourages you to practice goal visualization, which is the ability to visualize yourself having already achieved the goals you are working toward.

Continue Learning about Mental Health

Sometimes Crying Is Healthy
Sometimes Crying Is Healthy
In the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) takes a Hawaiian vacation to get over his recent breakup. But his ex and her n...
Read More
What raises the risk of mental illness in people with cancer?
World Federation For Mental Health (WFMH)World Federation For Mental Health (WFMH)
Following are special risk factors for psychiatric problems among cancer patients: The type and ...
More Answers
4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely
4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely
Loneliness and isolation can have serious health effects—but being proactive goes a long way.
Start Slideshow
How Can I Plan for the Future Without Worrying?
How Can I Plan for the Future Without Worrying?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.