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The Science of Behaviour Change

The Science of Behaviour Change is an applied psychology approach for facilitating personal change that is 100% based on clinical research over the last 30 years.

It was developed by Dr. John Norcross, Dr. James Prochaska and Dr. Carlo DiClemente in the 1980s and has since been used in a wide range of settings, including healthcare, addiction treatment, and health promotion.

Change itself encompasses many different conceptual ideas and includes:

  • Cognitive change for improved emotional outcomes.
  • Habitual change for modifying or irradicating unwanted habits.
  • Psychological change for overcoming mental health problems.
  • Aspirational change for achieving personal goals and targets.

Achieving real and sustainable change can only be realised through behaviour change.

What this means is that you cannot change by simply thinking differently because real change is bound up in the way that you behave and not just by the way you think.

Successful change, therefore, is defined as change at the behavioural level.

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What Steps Does Behaviour Change Involve?

When comparing the people who have achieved their goals with those who have failed, those achieving the most significant change appear to be the people who successfully implemented the steps outlined below.

The Steps of Behaviour Change

Change is achieved over several distinct phases:

  • Pre-contemplation – At this stage a person is not thinking about change at all!
  • Contemplation – Is when a person begins to think about the need or desire to change.

(These two first phases of change take place PRIOR to engaging in a change programme).

  • Preparation – Developing a strategy and/or consulting a change psychologist.
  • Action – The actual processes of modifying thoughts and behaviours.
  • Maintenance – Maintaining changes and managing lapses & relapses.
  • Termination – Reducing conscious intervention due to the habituation of new behaviours.

(These final four phases are where the process of chnage takes place).

The research shows that each different phase of change needs to follow the previous in the right sequence, and also that different tools, methods and processes occur within those phases.

Indeed, using the wrong processes at any given phase of change predicts failure.

Consequently, using the correct tools at the correct time (step-matching) is critical to achieving meaningful change.

Finally, the research also indicates that sustainable behaviour change takes, on average, about 90 days to achieve and cannot be rushed without the risk of reversion to old behaviours.

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About the Author

Paul is an academic and practicing psychologist with both a BSc. (Hons) and a Master's MSc. (Distinction) degree in Applied Psychology.

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He has been offering clinical psychology and counselling to private clients along with a small team of therapists from the Lee Psychology offices in Wombourne near Wolverhampton since 2009.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

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