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  • Colin Jonov

Can We Really Change Our Behavior?

Can humans really change their behavior? The science says we can. However, less than 1% of us ever will.

This is a concept I’ve been wrestling with for a while. I’ve frequently discussed this on my podcast with a number of guests. Can we actually change behavior? Or are some just born for greatness? The reality of behavioral change is daunting yet inspiring. It demands not just an understanding of the intricate science behind it but also a ruthless commitment to transformation. My favorite answer came from Dr. Layne Norton who recently discussed on Modern Wisdom how significant change requires a fundamental shift in various aspects of our lives. To become the person and athlete you aspire to be, you must “kill” the old version of yourself. Here’s a deep dive into the science and practical strategies to drive this change.

The Transtheoretical Model: A Roadmap to Change

Behavioral change is not an event but a process, often described by the Transtheoretical Model. This model outlines stages that include Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, and Termination.

  1. Precontemplation: At this stage, you might not even realize a change is needed. It’s crucial to increase your awareness of the negative impacts of your current behaviors.

  2. Contemplation: Here, you start weighing the pros and cons of changing. It’s essential to visualize the benefits of your new self vividly.

  3. Preparation: Begin taking small steps towards change. Develop a detailed action plan.

  4. Action: Implement your plan. This is where old habits are actively replaced with new ones.

  5. Maintenance: Sustain your new behavior over the long term. Identify potential triggers for relapse and develop strategies to manage them.

  6. Termination: The new behavior becomes so integrated into your lifestyle that there is no desire to return to the old ways.

Theory of Planned Behavior: Shaping Intentions

Behavioral intentions are critical and are influenced by three components:

  1. Attitudes: Your positive or negative evaluations of the behavior. Shift your mindset by focusing on the benefits and positive outcomes of the new behavior. Our mind controls our reality. When we focus on the negative, the negative comes to light. When we channel our energy towards what could go right, it usually works in our favor.

  2. Subjective Norms: The social pressure you feel to perform or not perform the behavior. Surround yourself with people who support and model the behavior you aspire to adopt. This is where most of progress gets stalled. It’s hard to change the people you surround yourself for a myriad of reasons. People can’t understand why you want to get better. It makes them feel inferior. Yes even your best friends sometimes aren’t really your friends.

  3. Perceived Behavioral Control: Your confidence in your ability to perform the behavior. Build this by setting achievable goals and gradually increasing their complexity. Your confidence builds by doing the actions and then cognitively recognizing you’ve done the actions. Keep doing. Keep adding more.

Social Cognitive Theory: Learning and Self-Efficacy

Behavior change is a dynamic interplay of personal, behavioral, and environmental factors:

  1. Observational Learning: Watch and learn from those who embody the traits you desire. This could be teammates, coaches, or figures like Dr. Layne Norton. Become a lifelong learner. Curate your learning environment with information that supports where you want to go.

  2. Self-Efficacy: Your belief in your ability to succeed is crucial. Develop this by celebrating small victories and learning from setbacks. If there’s one thing I learned from playing collegiate football it’s winning is unbelievably hard. Even with the perfect game plan, you sometimes lose. Enjoy each win. Accept that failure is part of the process. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. In fact, I encourage hating it. However, accept it and choose to learn from it.

  3. Reciprocal Determinism: Your environment influences your behavior, and your behavior influences your environment. Create a supportive environment that fosters the behaviors you want to adopt. Be ruthless here. It’s your only chance. Not everyone is owed an explanation. Dictate where you want to go and only allow those to come along who want to row in the same direction.

Neuroscience of Behavior Change: Rewiring the Brain

  1. Neuroplasticity: Your brain can reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Repeatedly practicing new behaviors strengthens these connections, making the behavior more automatic over time. It shouldn’t be surprising that practice helps reinforce behavior. Lay out the plan of the skills you want to develop and prioritize time to practice those skills.

  2. Dopamine and Reward Systems: Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a key role in reinforcing behaviors. Use reinforcement to reward yourself for engaging in desired behaviors, enhancing your motivation to continue. Motivation and discipline follow action. There’s a lot of demonizing motivation. However, motivation plays a role whether we like it or not. Yes, discipline is king. However, whether we want to admit it or not, motivation plays a major role. The more you perform an action, the better you get at it. The better you get at it, the more you want to do it.

  3. Andrew Huberman on the Huberman Lab is one of my favorite experts in this area. Check out his podcasts.

Behavioral Economics: Subtle Nudges and Powerful Framing

  1. Nudge Theory: Small changes in your environment can significantly impact your behavior. Arrange your surroundings to make the desired behavior easier. Our behavior becomes more predictable based on certain “nudges” in our environment. Want to eat healthier? Make your healthy foods eye level in your pantry. Use this to your advantage with the butterfly effect. One small change in your environment leads to a ripple effect. Sometimes all it takes is one change to put you on a different trajectory in your career

  2. Loss Aversion: People are more motivated to avoid losses than to achieve gains. Frame your goals in terms of what you stand to lose if you don’t change. For instance, consider the decline in clutch performance if you don’t commit to your plan. I’ve been on the side of poor clutch performance. It leaves you suffocated, embarrassed, and broken. That single play was at the forefront of my mind throughout the rest of my career.

Practical Steps to Becoming Your New Self

  1. Ruthlessly Change Your Environment: Alter your physical and social environment to support your goals. Remove temptations and surround yourself with individuals who inspire and support your new path.

  2. Transform Your Internal Dialogue: Your thoughts shape your reality. Replace abusive self-talk with constructive self-reflection. Focus your attention on the things that can go right.

  3. Commit to Continuous Learning: Stay informed about the science of behavior change. Engage with content that educates and motivates you, such as podcasts and literature on mental resilience and performance.

Embrace the suck

Behavior change is a relentless journey that demands unwavering commitment. The science provides a roadmap, but the execution depends on your willingness to embrace discomfort, challenge old patterns, and continuously strive for improvement. By integrating these scientific insights and practical strategies, you can kill the old version of yourself and become the person and athlete you aspire to be.

To Building Fortitude.

Best Regards,

Colin Jonov, Founder & CEO Athletic Fortitude

If this exploration resonated with you, become a part of our newsletter community. Together, we journey through the realms of thought, performance, and personal excellence.

P.S. Want to share your experiences or challenges with us? Reply to this newsletter or connect with me on social media @ColkyJonov10. I’m here to support you on your journey!

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