Embracing a new way

These days, if you are feeling overwhelmed by self-improvement messages you are not alone. Our living rooms are invaded by famous faces telling us we should eat well, exercise more, use less electricity and recycle on a regular basis.

It is understandable then, that we are feeling not only a level of cynicism about change, but also apathy towards it. We are now asking, ‘who is going to fix this for me?’ or ‘what is the Government doing to fix this?’ rather than, ‘what can and should I do?’

So how do we then support individuals to recognise their role in creating behavioural change, rather than waiting for others to drive new behaviours in this change-saturated environment?

The answer may be found in a holistic approach that recognises the barriers and motivators to certain behaviours, and that understands that much of human behaviour is driven by non-rational factors, including habits, cultural values, social norms, personal beliefs, prejudices and fears.

When seeking effective, long-term behaviour change from individuals, there are three important questions to ask.

1. Is the individual in the driver’s seat?

Ultimately, if individuals are to successfully change their behaviour, they need to not only want to change, but they must also be prepared to take responsibility for themselves.

Change programs need to give power back to the individual. That’s why at SenateSHJ, we have embraced the Four Rooms of Change®: a theory that helps people to reflect on their responses to change and to take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. This theory recognises the powerful personal drivers for change, including hope, family, support, community, celebration and success.

2. Is the individual ready to let go of the old?

For sustainable behaviour change, individuals need to let go of old patterns of thinking and behaviour.

The Four Rooms – or psychological states of mind – are Contentment; Self-Censorship and Denial; Confusion and Conflict; and Inspiration and Renewal. According to the Four Rooms’ creator, Claes Janssen:

“In all change we characteristically move from a contentment, which has been lost, through a phase of self-censorship or denial, which is a defence of the old pattern, of status quo, through a phase of confusion, which is ended when we give up the old which we had to give up. This giving up is a turning point, a resetting, which opens us to the possibilities, to the new, whereby we move to renewal.”

Individuals typically prefer to stick with the status quo because it’s known and feels safer, even if the ‘known’ is not a positive or healthy place – such as being obese or trapped in an unfulfilling role.   

In becoming self-aware, individuals reach what Janssen refers to as the Zero Point of Confusion, where they are ready to let go of their old thinking and old world views. He uses the example of a blind person who must let go of the old to truly embrace what’s possible: “One has to die from one’s seeing self to be able to live as a blind person.” *

3. Is the individual living and working in a supportive environment?

The environment in which a person works or lives must also support the desired change and is one of the keys to the success of a sustainable change program.

For healthy eating and physical activity programs, for example, people need increased accessibility to healthy food and safe places to exercise. A blocker may be something as simple and significant as not having enough street lights in a particular area, which means that local residents don’t feel safe to walk at night when they may have free time.

We must remember not to presume that we know what these barriers are for individuals. Humility and an open mind are key. 

* Claes Janssen, The Four Rooms of Change Part 1 A Practical Guide to Everyday Psychology, Ander & Lindstrom AB Four Room Publishers, Stockholm Sweden, 2011