Engineering Enduring Behavior Change

Unless you’re already perfect, there are probably some changes you’d like to make in yourself. Some of these changes may be attitudinal or philosophical. Some may involve changes in your personality. But in many ways, every change boils down to behavior.

This is because behavior is the way you interact with the world. It is what people notice about you, and it triggers how they react and treat you, in return.

Some might even argue that if you change your behavior first, your philosophy, attitude, and personality will inevitably follow. But that’s beyond the scope of this blog.

That’s why in this piece I’m going to duck that whole controversy and simply give you some ideas on the best ways to change your behavior for the better.

Think About It

At bottom, behavior in your work and your life stems from both your reaction to what’s going on around you, and your internal initiatives that – for a variety of reasons – have developed over time. Changing what’s going on around you is a conversation for another time. Here, let’s focus just on the behavior that you initiate for your own reasons.

If you want to improve any of this behavior, start by thinking about it.

  • What are you doing, and why?
  • What results are you getting – both good and bad – from this behavior?
  • What would you like to do differently?
  • What results do you anticipate from the improved behavior?

Analyze It

Now that you’ve identified the behavior you want to improve, and how you would like to behave instead, think about the context of your current behavior.

  • When do you behave this way?
  • What feelings or thoughts trigger this behavior?
  • What gives rise to these triggers?
  • Can you weaken or eliminate some or all of these triggers?
  • Who can help you diminish some or all of these triggers?


As with so many other aspects of life, relaxation can help you Improve your behavior.

This is because many of the behaviors you don’t like and now want to improve arose as coping mechanisms during times you felt stressed from:

  • Pressure to perform,
  • Various sources of real or imagined danger, or
  • Psychological issues of some type.

Many times, that stress disappears as you mature and your situation changes. But the triggered behavior can remain as a response to your feelings of stress.

You can reduce your stress level – and the unwanted behavior it triggers – not only by straightforward relaxation, but also through exercise, getting enough sleep, hanging out with friends, practicing meditation or mindfulness, learning gratitude, or doing yoga.

Attaining and maintaining a more relaxed state will reduce the power of stress and thereby the behavior you are trying to improve.

Practice It

Once you’re more relaxed and aware of your behavior, you can consciously begin to practice the improved behavior you’d like to exhibit more often. You can do this by:

  • Cultivating self-awareness of how you behave.
  • Consciously calling a halt to your unwanted behavior when it crops up.
  • Replacing unwanted behavior with improved behavior as often as you can.
  • Taking note of the improvement, and looking back on it with pride.

It’s O.K. to start small with these kinds of behavior changes. As with a muscle, the more you exercise the improved behavior, the more capable you become. Over the coming weeks, months, and years, even a long list of improved behaviors you want to exhibit will come to feel entirely natural and automatic.  

Celebrate It

As your behavior improves, it not only becomes easier and a more natural part of you, you’ll enter a virtuous cycle in which reaping some early rewards from the improved behavior encourages you to exhibit it more often.

Stay aware of these rewards, and share your good feelings about your improved behavior with people you trust. The additional positive feedback they give you will enhance the virtuous cycle and help you improve your behavior even more.

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