What Is Behavior Change in Psychology? 5 Models and Theories

Behavior change

Can the answer to this question help us change our less desirable behaviors?

Changing less desirable behaviors can help individuals, communities, and our environment.

However, behaviors can be highly ingrained and become habits we perform automatically without thinking. This poses a significant challenge to changing these behaviors.

To design effective interventions with which to change behavior, it is useful to understand the theories and models of behavior change.

This article will cover the leading theories and models, as well as an interesting study and some simple techniques to help your clients change their behavior.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

What is behavioral change 14 examples, 2 psychology theories about changing behavior, 3 scientific models and frameworks explained, behavior change research: a fascinating study, why is behavioral change difficult, how to elicit behavior change: 4 techniques, helpful resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Behavioral change is about altering habits and behaviors for the long term. The majority of research around health-related behaviors (Davis, Campbell, Hildon, Hobbs, & Michie, 2015) indicates that small changes can lead to enormous improvements in people’s health and life expectancy. These changes can have knock-on effects on the health of others (Swann et al., 2010).

Examples include:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Eating healthily
  • Exercising regularly
  • Practicing safe sex
  • Driving safely

Other behaviors that are the target of change interventions are those affecting the environment, for example:

  • Leaving lights on
  • Not recycling

Some behavior changes may be related to improving wellbeing, such as

  • Reducing procrastination
  • Incorporating regular self-care activities
  • Being more assertive at work
  • Going to bed earlier
  • Practicing mindfulness

These are just a few examples of behavior changes that many have tried at some time in their lives. Some changes may be easy, but others prove quite challenging.

Theories about behavior change

In a literature review by Davis et al. (2015), researchers identified 82 theories of behavior change applicable to individuals. We will discuss the most frequently occurring theories and models in this article.

The theory of planned behavior/reasoned action

Fishbein and Ajzen developed the theory of reasoned action in the 1970s. This theory posits that behaviors occur because of intention, and intention is influenced by personal attitude and the perceived social norm (Madden, Ellen, & Ajzen, 1992).

This means that the more positive a person’s attitude toward changing their behavior and the more others are doing the desired behavior or supporting the behavior change, the stronger the person’s intention to change their behavior will be and the more likely they are to successfully change it.

In the 1980s, Ajzen extended this model to incorporate perceived behavioral control as an influencer of intention and sometimes as a direct influence on behavior (Madden et al., 1992).

Perceived behavioral control is a person’s confidence in their capability to perform the behavior and whether they believe they can overcome barriers and challenges. This extended model is known as the theory of planned behavior  and accounts for more variation in behavior change than the theory of reasoned action (Madden et al., 1992).

Theory of planned behavior

The theories of planned behavior/reasoned action

The image above, adapted from Madden et al. (1992), shows the theory of reasoned action in gray and the addition of perceived behavioral control in brown to create the theory of planned behavior.

Here is a useful YouTube explanation of the theory of planned behavior.

Social cognitive theory

The social cognitive theory, proposed by Bandura in 1986, is an expansion of his earlier social learning theory, in which he states that many behaviors are learned by observing others in our social environment (Bandura, 1999).

For us to adopt a behavior, we have to pay attention to the behavior being modeled, remember it, and reproduce it. We may be rewarded for this, which reinforces the behavior, or punished, which reduces the likelihood we will do it again. However, Bandura acknowledged that there is more to adopting a behavior than this.

He expanded his theory to include personal factors of the individual: cognitive, affective, and biological. This includes an individual’s personal resources and abilities, their perceived self-efficacy (capability of performing the behavior), their expectations of the costs and benefits of changing their behavior, and the perceived barriers and opportunities that may help or hinder them.

Bandura emphasizes that we are the agents of our own development and change, and our perceived self-efficacy and outcome expectations play an important role in determining our actions . Our social surroundings can aid or inhibit our goals by providing opportunities or imposing restrictions, which in turn can affect our perceived self-efficacy and outcome expectations for next time (Bandura, 1999).

A model of this theory is shown below, highlighting a bidirectional relationship between an individual’s personal factors, the environment, and their behavior, with each factor influencing the others.

Social Cognitive Theory Model

Social cognitive theory model

YouTube has this good summary video on Bandura’s social cognitive theory.

Theories can be used to build models and frameworks that have more practical applications and can be used to develop interventions. Three frequently occurring models are explained below.

Transtheoretical model

Otherwise known as the stages of change , this is the most frequently occurring model in the literature. The transtheoretical model was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late ’70s and suggests six stages of behavior change (Prochaska, 1979; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982).

Identifying the stage an individual is in helps health professionals, coaches, and therapists provide targeted interventions for that stage.

The six stages of change are:

  • Precontemplation The individual is not intending to change their behavior. They may be uninformed about the consequences of their behavior or lack confidence in their ability to change, sometimes because of previous failed attempts.
  • Contemplation The individual is intending to change their behavior within the next six months. They can see the benefits of making a change but are also very aware of the disadvantages and challenges, which can keep them stuck in this stage.
  • Preparation The individual is planning to change their behavior within the next month. They have usually taken some steps already, such as joining a support group, buying a self-help book, finding a coach etc., and have some form of plan in place.
  • Action The individual has made significant changes to their behavior within the last six months, which has led to a different outcome in their health and/or wellbeing.
  • Maintenance The individual continues to change their behavior enough to prevent relapse but is not putting as much time and effort into this as in the action stage.NOTE: Relapse can occur at any stage up to and including this one, going back to any of the earlier stages in the model. People most frequently return to contemplation or preparation for another attempt at changing their behavior (Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).
  • Termination The individual is no longer tempted to use their old behavior as a coping method and feels confident in their ability to keep this change. Many people will struggle to reach this end state.

The transtheoretical model_stages of change

The transtheoretical model/stages of change

Here is a short YouTube animation about the transtheoretical model of change.

Information–motivation–behavioral skills model

This model was designed by Fisher and Fisher (1992) after reviewing the literature on changing AIDS-risk behavior. They propose three key factors that influence behavior change:

  • Information about the behavior
  • Motivation to perform the behavior
  • Behavioral skills to perform the behavior

Information includes automatic thoughts about a behavior as well as consciously learned information. Motivation includes both personal motivation , the desire to change behavior for oneself, and social motivation, the desire to change behavior to fit into the social environment.

Information and motivation influence behavioral skills, which include objective skills and perceived self-efficacy. The combination of information, motivation, and behavioral skills influences behavior change (see image below).

As a helping professional, increasing the amount of information your client has, helping them find their motivation, or increasing their objective behavioral skills or perceived self-efficacy could help them change their behavior.

The Information-motivation-behavioral skills model

The information–motivation–behavioral skills model (Fisher & Fisher, 1992)

Behavior change wheel & COM-B model

In 2011, Michie, van Stralen, and West pulled together different behavior change frameworks to create a behavior change wheel. The aim of this was to provide guidance for policy makers and those performing behavioral interventions, based on the existing evidence.

Behavior change wheel

The behavior change wheel from Michie et al. (2011)

The hub of this wheel, the most relevant part for us, involves three conditions: capability, opportunity, and motivation.

  • Capability includes both physical and psychological ability to perform the behavior, including having the necessary knowledge and skills.
  • Opportunity is about the environment around the individual, which either facilitates or inhibits a behavior.
  • Motivation is the drive and energy to perform a behavior, including habits, emotions, and thoughts.

These components have been put together to form the COM-B model, where opportunity and capability influence motivation, and all three factors influence behavior. Improving any of these areas could help your client change their behavior.

COM-B model

COM-B model (Michie et al., 2011)

Behavior change research

They wanted to see if interventions to promote sustainable behaviors were more likely to induce behavior change in people who had recently moved.

They studied 800 participants, half of whom had moved within the previous six months. The other half lived in the same areas and were matched for home ownership, house size, access to public transport, and recycling facilities, but had not recently moved.

The researchers gave an intervention on sustainable behaviors to half of the movers and half of the non-movers, and compared self-report data on behaviors before and after the intervention.

After accounting for environmental values, past behavior, habit strength, intentions, perceived control, personal norms, and involvement, they found that the intervention had the strongest effect on the self-reported sustainable behaviors of those who had recently moved within the last three months, termed the “window of opportunity.”

essay about behavior change

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The process of change can seem daunting, and many people find it difficult. It is important to remember that change is a process and not a one-off event. It can be difficult to make large changes in one step, but breaking up a large goal into smaller parts takes planning and commitment.

It’s challenging to stay motivated if the reward for behavior change seems far off in the future or is vague; for example, exercising more to reduce risk of heart disease in older age.

If there are no immediate rewards for changing a behavior, or if there are immediate costs, such as nicotine cravings when quitting smoking, this can make it difficult to stay motivated. This is why it is helpful to identify these issues in advance and create plans for when they occur.

As described in the theories and models above, there are many elements at play that determine how successful a behavior change will be. Having the intention does not necessarily translate into the behavior (Gollwitzer, 1999). A meta-analysis by Webb and Sheeran (2006) found that a medium-to-large change in intention leads to a small-to-medium change in behavior, known as the intention–behavior gap.

Factors that help with behavior change include the following (Gollwitzer, 1999):

  • Goals should be as specific as possible, not vague.
  • The goal should be in the immediate rather than the distant future.
  • The reason for a behavior change should be for positive gain rather than the loss of a negative.
  • The reason for behavior change should be for learning rather than for performance/achievement.

Change is difficult, and you will probably face setbacks during your progress. Habits are easy and helpful in freeing up resources by making small decisions and non-decisions. Disrupting habits requires removing triggers, inhibiting automated responses, and replacing habituated responses with more adaptable, positive behaviors (Orbell & Verplanken, 2020).

As this quote suggests, genuine change comes from within ourselves when we are willing to change our behavior.

Motivation and resilience are important factors in initiating change, overcoming resistance, and remaining determined. It is helpful to identify the psychological capital available to you to support you along the journey of behavioral change. Several approaches aim to help you change your habits.

Planning and goal setting are proven methods in mental health interventions for behavioral change (Keyworth et al., 2020).

Goal definition, e.g., SMART Goals, can effectively motivate and guide toward goal achievement (Kremer, Moran, & Kearney, 2019).

To achieve goals in the long run, it is important to establish new good habits and undo existing bad habits (Clear, 2018).

One way to adopt new habits can be by changing your environment. If you, for example, want to do more sports to become healthier and fitter, you can prepare before going to bed by arranging your sports clothes or other necessities.

Self-tracking and self-contracts are valuable tools to promote the development of habits. Monitoring your progress helps to centralize goal-relevant activities and keeps resources mobilized to remain committed (Locke & Latham, 2002).

If we want to change something in our lives, we will probably adjust how we behave. Otherwise, we will get more of the same. Nonetheless, we want to stress that you should also be grateful for your prior transformations and proud of current, positive behavior patterns.

essay about behavior change

Here are some examples:

Implementation intentions

An implementation intention links a particular behavior to a specific situation: “If X happens, then I will do Y.” This means that if a specific situation occurs, the thinking process automatically reminds a person of the particular behavior they intended to apply.

It is a way to create new habits and has been effective in a multitude of situations (Gollwitzer, 1999). An example might be telling yourself, “If I see the lights on in an empty room, I will switch them off.” This means you are more likely to notice this situation and do something about it when it arises.

Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing helps individuals gain clarity in their thoughts and motivations for change, and identifies barriers to change so that solutions can be considered. This is known as change talk .

Motivational interviewing is a process of guiding rather than directing, helping a client to identify their strengths and goals, and improving their sense of self-efficacy and autonomy.

This approach is particularly useful in those who are reluctant or ambivalent about changing their behavior and outperforms traditional advice giving in helping clients to change their behavior (Rubak, Sandboek, Lauritzen, & Christensen, 2005).

Get inspired by TED talks

There are many fantastic TED talks on behavior change. Here are two examples.

In this wonderful talk, behavioral neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains why the common method used to promote behavior change – threatening people with the risks of continuing as they are – does not work: “Fear induces inaction, whereas the thrill of a gain induces action.”

She suggests that three key factors are important in changing our behavior:

  • Social incentives
  • Immediate reward
  • Progress monitoring

In this nine-minute talk, American psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and author Judson Brewer suggests that mindfulness can be a useful method in behavior change. He invites us to notice our urge toward a certain behavior, be curious about why we have the urge, and decide whether the behavior is truly rewarding or whether we can let it go.

  • Notice the urge.
  • Get curious.
  • Feel the joy in letting go.

On our site, we have several resources that are invaluable for implementing behavior changes. To help, check out some of the following:

  • Abstraction Worksheet This worksheet presents three simple prompts to help clients clearly define and illustrate a desired behavior change and its consequences.
  • Motivational Interviewing: Querying Extremes Worksheet This worksheet helps clients systematically explore possible negative consequences of continuing with a current behavior and possible positive consequences of changing their behavior.
  • Reward Replacement Worksheet This worksheet helps clients identify the negative consequences of behaviors they use to reward themselves and select different reward behaviors with positive consequences to replace them.
  • Motivational Interviewing Worksheets These worksheets present a series of motivational interviewing questions according to the DARN Acronym , which stands for Desires , Ability , Reasons , and Need .

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, this collection contains 17 validated motivation & goals-achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.

essay about behavior change

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Updated monthly. 100% Science-based.

“The best positive psychology resource out there!” — Emiliya Zhivotovskaya , Flourishing Center CEO

If your aim is to design interventions that are effective in helping clients change their behavior, then understanding the theories and models of behavior change is a useful first step.

Behavior change is more complicated than having the knowledge or even the right intentions to behave a certain way. There are so many factors at play, including an individual’s beliefs about their capabilities and barriers, as well as environmental factors, such as social norms.

We hope that this article gave you the guidance, inspiration, techniques, and resources you need to help your clients implement change. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free .

  • Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Asian Journal of Social Psychology , 2 (1), 21–41.
  • Clear, J. (2018). How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick. Retrieved from https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change.
  • Davis, R., Campbell, R., Hildon, Z., Hobbs, L., & Michie, S. (2015). Theories of behaviour and behaviour change across the social and behavioural sciences: A scoping review. Health Psychology Review , 9 (3), 323–344.
  • Fisher, J. D., & Fisher, W. A. (1992). Changing AIDS-risk behavior. Psychological Bulletin , 111 (3), 455–474.
  • Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist , 54 (7), 493–503.
  • Keyworth, C., Epton, T., Goldthorpe, J., Calam, R., & Armitage, C. J. (2020). Delivering opportunistic behavior change interventions: a systematic review of systematic reviews. Prevention Science, 21(3) , 319-331.
  • Kremer, J., Moran, A. P., & Kearney, C. J. (2019). Pure sport: Sport psychology in action . Routledge.
  • Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9) , 705.
  • Madden, T. J., Ellen, P. S., & Ajzen, I. (1992). A comparison of the theory of planned behavior and the theory of reasoned action. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 18 (1), 3–9.
  • Michie, S., van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation Science , 6 , 42.
  • Orbell, S., & Verplanken, B. (2020). 13 Changing behavior using habit theory. The handbook of behavior change, 178 .
  • Prochaska, J. O. (1979). Systems of psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis. Dorsey Press.
  • Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1982). Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a more integrative model of change.  Psychotherapy: Theory, research & practice ,  19 (3), 276-288.
  • Rubak, S., Sandboek, A., Lauritzen, T., & Christensen, B. (2005). Motivational interviewing: A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of General Practice , 55 (513), 305–312.
  • Swann, C., Carmona, C., Ryan, M., Raynor, M., Baris, E., Dunsdon, S., & Kelly, M. P. (2010). Health systems and health-related behaviour change: A review of primary and secondary evidence. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
  • Verplanken, B., & Roy, D. (2016). Empowering interventions to promote sustainable lifestyles: Testing the habit discontinuity hypothesis in a field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology , 45 , 127–134.
  • Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin , 132 (2), 249–268.

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Bunty Pai

Hi Nicole, I am a teacher trainer and wanted to know if these theories will work for teachers, who will be implementing a programme with the goal of building joyful reading habits in primary school children using storybooks.

Absolutely! These theories, such as the Theory of Planned Behavior highlight how understanding intentions, social influences, and self-confidence can help shape positive reading habits. By incorporating these insights into your program, you can create an engaging environment that encourages children to embrace reading joyfully.


Very detailed and intelligent article

Atuhaire Zaituni

This article is really doing great work. Concerning with my course unit of Behavioural Change, as a Psychology student. A sum of Applaud to the author


Very helpful article, thank you.


TTM was actually developed in the late 70’s by Prochaska and DiClemente, not 1997 or the individual that you sited in this article. I’m currently doing research on that model for a graduate course and came across your article. Here is a site from Boston University with some great details about the model


Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

Hi Darlene,

Whoops! Thanks for picking up this mistake and for the helpful reference.

We’ve corrected this now in the post 🙂

– Nicole | Community Manager

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The 6 Stages of Change

The Transtheoretical, or Stages of Change, Model

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

essay about behavior change

  • Getting Started
  • Limitations

Stage 1: Precontemplation

Stage 2: contemplation, stage 3: preparation, stage 4: action, stage 5: maintenance, stage 6: relapse.

  • Getting Help

Anyone who has ever broken a  New Year’s resolution  can appreciate the difficulty of behavior change. Making a lasting change in behavior is rarely a simple process. It usually involves a substantial commitment of time, effort, and emotion. The stages of change (or transtheoretical) model seeks to explain and effect such change, and the science says it works in many cases.

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell

Press Play for Advice On Creating Change

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares ways to create lasting change. Click below to listen now.

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How to Get Started

Whether people want to lose weight, stop smoking, or accomplish another goal, no single solution works for everyone. You may have to go through a process of trial and error to achieve your goal.

It's during this period that many people become discouraged and give up on their behavior change goals. The keys to achieving and maintaining your goals are to try new techniques and find ways to stay motivated.

Change might not come easily, but psychologists have developed effective ways to help people change their behavior. Therapists, physicians, and teachers use these techniques. Researchers have also proposed theories to explain how change occurs. Understanding the elements of change, the stages of change, and ways to work through each stage can help you achieve your goals.

The Elements of Change

To succeed, you need to understand the three most important elements in changing a behavior:

  • Readiness to change : Do you have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
  • Barriers to change : Is there anything preventing you from changing?
  • Likelihood of relapse : What might trigger a return to a former behavior?

Stages of Change Model

One of the best-known approaches to change is the stages of change (aka, transtheoretical) model, introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente. They were studying ways to help people quit smoking. The stages of change model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behavior.

Click Play to Learn More About the 6 Stages of Behavior Change

This video has been medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD .

In this model, change occurs gradually and relapses are an inevitable part of the process. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but they eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing a behavior. This model demonstrates that change is rarely easy. It often requires a gradual progression of small steps toward a goal.

Stages of Change Examples

The transtheoretical model can help in a vast array of areas, from smoking cessation, weight loss, and drug misuse rehabilitation to lifestyle goals such as healthy eating, regular exercise, improved sleep schedules, etc. Any significant change you'd like to make in your life would likely benefit from applying the transtheoretical model.

Limitations of the Transtheoretical Model

Although the transtheoretical model can foster behavioral change, critics have pointed out several limitations:

  • It assumes that the person is capable of rational, logical decisions and actions.
  • It doesn't take into account contextual factors such as income, class, occupation, etc.
  • No defined start/end points or durations delineate each stage or the overall process.
  • Interview tools such as questionnaires are arbitrary and unstandardized.

Ignorance of the problem

Rethink your behavior

Analyze yourself and your actions

Assess risks of current behavior

The earliest stage of change is precontemplation. During the precontemplation stage, people are not considering a change. People in this stage are often described as "in denial," because they claim that their behavior is not a problem. In some cases, people in this stage do not understand that their behavior is damaging, or they are under-informed about the consequences of their actions.

If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to your current state or believe that you have no control over your behavior.

If you are in this stage, begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever tried to change this behavior in the past? How do you recognize that you have a problem? What would have to happen for you to consider your behavior a problem?


Conflicted emotions

Weigh pros and cons of behavior change

Confirm readiness and ability to change

Identify barriers to change

During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing. Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years.  

Many people never make it past the contemplation phase.

You may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits. If you are contemplating a behavior change, there are some important questions to ask yourself: Why do you want to change? Is there anything preventing you from changing? What are some things that could help you make this change?

Experimenting with small changes

Collecting information about change

Write down your goals

Prepare a plan of action

Make a list of motivating statements

During the preparation stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods.   If your goal is to quit smoking , you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books .

If you are in the preparation stage, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of successfully making a lasting life change. Gather as much information as you can about ways to change your behavior. Prepare a list of motivating statements. Write down your goals. Find resources such as support groups, counselors, or friends who can offer advice and encouragement.

Direct action toward a goal

Reward your successes

Seek out social support

During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action to accomplish their goals . Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time.

For example, many people make a New Year's resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, embark on a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.

If you are currently taking action toward achieving a goal, congratulate and reward yourself for any positive steps you take. Reinforcement and support are extremely important in helping maintain positive steps toward change.

Take the time to periodically review your motivations , resources, and progress in order to refresh your commitment and belief in your abilities.

Maintenance of the new behavior

Avoiding temptation

Develop coping strategies for temptation

Remember to reward yourself

The maintenance phase of the stages of change model involves successfully avoiding former behaviors and keeping up new behaviors. If you are trying to maintain a new behavior, look for ways to avoid temptation. Try replacing old habits with more positive actions. Reward yourself when you are able to successfully avoid a relapse.

If you do falter, don’t be too hard on yourself or give up. Instead, remind yourself that it was just a minor setback. As you will learn in the next stage, relapses are common and are a part of the process of making a lifelong change.

During this stage, people become more assured that they will be able to continue their change.



Feelings of failure

Identify triggers that lead to relapse

Recognize barriers to success

Reaffirm your goal and commitment to change

In any behavior change, relapses are a common occurrence. When you go through a relapse, you might experience feelings of failure , disappointment, and frustration.

The key to success is to not let these setbacks undermine your self-confidence. If you lapse back to an old behavior, take a hard look at why it happened. What triggered the relapse? What can you do to avoid these triggers in the future?

While relapses can be difficult, the best solution is to start again with the preparation, action, or maintenance stages of behavior change.

Consider reassessing your resources and techniques. Reaffirm your motivation, plan of action, and commitment to your goals. Also, make plans for how you will deal with any future temptations.

Resolutions fail when the proper preparation and actions are not taken. By approaching a goal with an understanding of how to best prepare, act, and maintain a new behavior, you will be more likely to succeed.

How to Get Help

Sometimes, no matter how determined a person is, the obstacles to change are nearly insurmountable without help--or at the very least, infinitely easier with it. For example, overcoming a substance misuse disorder generally requires the expertise of a specialist to help smooth the rehabilitation process and foster your mental and physical health. They can provide therapy, medication, and other proven supports. Talk with your healthcare provider about the options.

A Word From Verywell

Making a major change and sticking to it aren't easy. You may be more successful in keeping your resolutions by using these steps. Many clinical programs for behavior change use the stages of change model for issues from smoking cessation to substance misuse recovery. In fact, if you go with a structured program to support your change, you might see the steps outlined here.

Prochaska JO, Velicer WF. The transtheoretical model of health behavior change . Am J Health Promot. 1997;12(1):38-48. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-12.1.38

LaMorte W. The transtheoretical model (stages of change) . Boston University School of Public Health.

Mastellos N, Gunn LH, Felix LM, Car J, Majeed A. Transtheoretical model stages of change for dietary and physical exercise modification in weight loss management for overweight and obese adults . Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(2):CD008066. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008066.pub3

LaMorte WW.  The transtheoretical model (Stages of Change) . Boston University School of Public Health.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

Behavior Changes

This essay will discuss the various factors that can lead to behavior changes in individuals. It will explore psychological, environmental, and biological influences on behavior. The piece will also consider how understanding these factors can lead to more effective approaches in therapy, education, and personal development. Moreover, at PapersOwl, there are additional free essay samples connected to Behavior.

How it works

1. After analyzing my life, I came to a realization that stress plays a huge role in my life compared to any other minor issue. Stress is a factor that I would like to change, if possible. I would prefer to maintain the stress in my life because it only leads to a life of self-destruction. One negative effect of stress, is that stress can trigger a breakdown of mental health. A mental break down can cause many issues such as being forgetful or lack self-efficacy which could result in a downward spiral of a healthy life style.

2. My goal is to minimize and maintain the stress levels in my life through self-meditation. Using smart goals there are specific ways to reach my goals while relieving my life of stress would be to predominantly implement more self-meditation. Relieving stress through thinking optimist, will be my main priorities whenever I feel stress arising I will first, go to the gym and focus on yoga stretching out my muscles and doing slow breathing exercises. Allowing myself not to get so tensed up where my body and muscles are hurting from stress. I will go to the gym every free moment I get from school and work. Secondly, I will focus on making myself happy. Simply by doing what I love to do, by not constantly putting others before myself such as family. I will take time out of my day to motivate myself and allow myself to have pleasant thought of all my accomplishments and what my future holds. Positive thinking will contribute to self-mediation. The timeline for becoming stress free will not be limited, this should be an everyday thing. Whenever, I feel stress arising I will simply ask my boss if I could have a moment to go for walk to think and clear all the negative out my mind. While at school I may just wait till my breaks that are in between classes and head to the gym to do some quick yoga and breathing exercises. I will measure the success of being stress free when I can easily focus on things without feeling negative or constantly overwhelmed. Meaning I will feel in control of my environment and daily task. I will not procrastinate and I will get things done ahead of time because I am focused and motivated. A few of the actions and behaviors will be to go each day with less and less stress by spending time self-reflecting on my faith and positive future success that will motivate me. To understand the

3. Two positive health outcomes if I implement less stress in my life. The first positive outcome of living a stress free life is to increase my life span. Everyone on earth wants to live as long as we possibly can but in order to do that we must learn to be stress free. A second positive outcome is to increase my cardiovascular health and to reduce the chances of diseases. Being constantly stress has a tendency to weaken the immune system allowing illness and disease to enter in. I learned this while I was in the military I was constantly stress to the point where I constantly got sick because my immune systems was so weak.

4. A website I found most useful was Mayo Clinic: Healthy Lifestyle Stress management. The website provides information on ways to minimize stress and ways individual people can maintain a positive healthy lifestyle through thinking positive.

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950
  • Mayo Clinic is a credible source because it is a reliable source of information. This website has been ranked at the top, for the best hospital ranking. Mayo Clinic focuses on their education, research, and the clinical practice. Mayo Clinic has been around for 154 years. The healthy lifestyle stress management article was establish in 2017. It is good when a source has a recent publishing date.
  • This website is a good resource because it gives a clear understanding of how thinking positive can relieve stress from an individual’s life. The website goes in-depth about how negative thinking can have a negative impact on an individual’s health and life. The website also gives examples of positive and negative thinking.


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The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change

Elliot t. berkman.

Department of Psychology, Center for Translational Neuroscience, University of Oregon, and Berkman Consultants, LLC

The ways that people set, pursue, and eventually succeed or fail in accomplishing their goals are central issues for consulting psychology. Goals and behavior change have long been the subject of empirical investigation in psychology, and have been adopted with enthusiasm by the cognitive and social neurosciences in the last few decades. Though relatively new, neuroscientific discoveries have substantially furthered the scientific understanding of goals and behavior change. This article reviews the emerging brain science on goals and behavior change, with particular emphasis on its relevance to consulting psychology. I begin by articulating a framework that parses behavior change into two dimensions, one motivational (the will ) and the other cognitive (the way ). A notable feature of complex behaviors is that they typically require both. Accordingly, I review neuroscience studies on cognitive factors, such as executive function, and motivational factors, such as reward learning and self-relevance, that contribute to goal attainment. Each section concludes with a summary of the practical lessons learned from neuroscience that are relevant to consulting psychology.

Setting goals is easy; achieving them is hard. Why? This question has long stumped humanity and will certainly not be answered in this article. A full explanation of why it is hard to accomplish a goal or change old habits may never be possible. However, all hope is not lost. Research at the interface of neuroscience and psychology has made significant strides in uncovering the machinery behind goal pursuit. This knowledge, in turn, provides clues about the various ways that behavior change can go wrong and how to improve it. In this article, I present a brain-based framework for understanding how goal pursuit works and how to facilitate behavior change. Along the way, I highlight specific and practical lessons learned that are relevant to the science and practice of consulting psychology.

Goals and the Four Types of Behavior

What do I mean by goals? Colloquially, a goal is any desired outcome that wouldn’t otherwise happen without some kind of intervention. In other words, a goal is a detour from the path of least resistance. Formally, a goal is a desired future state (an end) coupled with a set of antecedent acts that promote the attainment of that end state (means; see Kruglanski, Shah, Fishbach, Friedman, Chun, & Sleeth-Keppler, 2002 for a summary). I present the informal definition first because it captures something that is missing from the formal one: a sense of what people actually mean by the word “goals” and how we use them. Technically, according to the formal definition, going out with friends to celebrate someone’s birthday is goal; it is an imagined end state and one must deploy various means to make it happen. But most people wouldn’t think of planning to go to a party later tonight as a goal. In practice, we set goals in cases where we need to do something that hasn’t happened yet and isn’t likely to happen on its own.

The difference between the two definitions of goals highlights an important aspect of goals and the way it is often overlooked. Goals are usually things we want but have difficulty achieving even when we know they are achievable. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need a goal in the first place. That sense of struggle is also captured in the term behavior change , which I use interchangeably with goal pursuit here. It’s not engaging in behavior, per se, but rather new behavior that is hard. To pursue what most people call a goal involves doing something different than what has been done before. For example, a primary incentive underlying achievement motivation (i.e., the need for achievement) is to demonstrate one’s capability to perform well on a new or challenging task ( McClelland, 1985 ).

To understand why new behavior is so hard, it’s useful to think about two dimensions that give rise to behaviors. The first dimension captures the skills, capacities, and knowledge required to engage in a behavior. This includes mapping out the steps to take and having the skill to execute an action, as well as related cognitive processes such as attentional focus, inhibitory control, and working memory capacity. Because it reflects the means used to achieve a goal, I refer to the first dimension as the way . The second dimension captures the desire for and importance of a behavior. This includes wanting to achieve a goal and prioritizing it over other goals, as well as related motivational processes such as volition, intention, and the nature and strength of the drive for achievement. Because it relates to the motivation to engage in a behavior, I refer to the second dimension as the will .

As shown in Figure 1 , these two dimensions give rise to four broad types of action. Complex-Routine behavior, in the top-left quadrant, requires some level of skill or knowledge but little motivation. Habitual behaviors reside in this quadrant: they can be quite complex yet are often triggered by external cues without motivation. For example, many drivers have piloted their car somewhere familiar, such as a child’s school, without thinking and despite an intention to go elsewhere. Indeed, a hallmark of habitual behavior is engaging in it even (or especially) in the absence of a conscious goal to do so ( Wood & Neal, 2007 ). Simple-Routine behavior, in the bottom-left quadrant, requires little skill and motivation. For example, walking, eating, and other behaviors related to primary rewards reside in this quadrant. These behaviors are so easy and effortless that we hardly think of them as goals at all. Because they are located in the same place on the horizontal axis and on different places on the vertical axis, the key difference between the first two types of behaviors is the level of skill they require. Simple-Novel behavior, in the bottom-right quadrant, requires high motivation but low skill to accomplish. Simple but new (and at times unpleasant) tasks such as changing a diaper belong in this quadrant. The most interesting kind of behavior is in the fourth quadrant: Complex-Novel behavior that requires high skill and high motivation. The goals that people care about most reside there.

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Behavior can be divided into four broad categories defined by the level of motivation they demand (horizontal axis) and the level of skill or ability they require (vertical axis). Behavior change typically involves moving from left-to-right, from bottom-to-top, or both. Moving from left-to-right increases the motivational demand ( why ) of an action, whereas moving from bottom-to-top increases the skill level ( how ). It is useful to identify the vector of change required during goal pursuit and to target motivational (horizontal) and cognitive (vertical) processes as necessary.

Differences between adjacent quadrants within this space are instructive. The key distinction between a rote, unpleasant task (bottom-right) and a complex, hard one (top-right) is skill- and knowledge-oriented. Changing one diaper doesn’t take much ability, but building a machine to do the task for you would require decades of schooling. Both require high levels of motivation. The lesson is that moving up and down in this space is a matter of skill-building. In contrast, the distinction between a complex task that happens easily (top-left) and one that requires effort (top-right) is motivational. Driving to your child’s school is easy because you’ve done it so many times that it has become a matter of habit. In contrast, driving for the first time in a new country relies on the same skillset but feels much harder because it forces you to focus and apply the driving and navigation skills you already have. As you do it more it becomes easier, of course, but you can still do it on the first attempt as long as you try hard enough. Moving from left to right in this space, therefore, is a matter of effort more than one of skill or knowledge. Once a person possesses the capacity and knowledge to accomplish a difficult task, the missing piece is motivation.

Lessons learned for consulting psychology

In light of this framework, the first step to facilitating behavior change is to diagnose the source of the difficulty. Consultants and coaches can do foundational work with their clients early in the behavior change process to pinpoint the nature of the behavior change and identify how the new behavior is different from old patterns. The first step to helping a client with behavior change can involve answering these questions:

  • Does the client already have the skills required for the new task?
  • Is the barrier to change a lack of a way or a lack of a will?
  • Is the person trying to move up, to the right, or both on the axes in Figure 1 ?

Once the most relevant dimension of change is identified, the second step is to drill down to learn more about the specific nature of the motivation or skills/capacities that will be the target. For example, consider the questions:

  • If motivation, is the client lacking motivation to approach a desirable outcome or to avoid an undesirable one (e.g., Berkman & Lieberman, 2010 )?
  • If motivation, is the client generally unmotivated, or highly motivated to a different goal besides than the behavior change goal?
  • If skills, are they related to interpersonal abilities (e.g., empathy and perspective taking) or executive functioning (e.g., inhibition and attentional control)?
  • If skills, is it possible that the client already possesses the skills but is stuck in a closed mindset and overly focused on one aspect of the behavior, such that a broadening of perspective might open new avenues for progress using other skills?

The relevant neuroscience will be quite different depending on the answer to these questions. In the following sections, I summarize the neuroscientific literatures on the will and the way with an emphasis on practical lessons for consulting psychology.

The neuroscience of the “way”: Executive function and cognitive control

Research on “the way” of goals and behavior change has mostly focused on constructs such as attention, working memory, inhibitory control, and planning – collectively known as executive function. A great deal of knowledge has been gained from neuroscientific studies about executive function, mostly about the neural systems and circuits that implement executive function (sometimes referred to as the task-positive network; Fox et al., 2005 ), and also about how disruptions to those circuits can cause alternately specific or broad impairment depending on the precise location and nature of the damage ( Alvarez & Emory, 2006 ; Stuss & Knight, 2012 ). Recent work has even begun to explore the bidirectional relationship between central and peripheral nervous system functioning in the context of goals, such as how activation of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis during stress can influence executive function ( Roos et al., 2017 ). Together, imaging and lesion studies have illuminated many of the mechanistic elements and processes involved in complex goal pursuit ( Stuss, 2011 ). This information, in turn, contains some important lessons for consulting psychology about the capabilities and limits of executive function that are directly relevant to goals.

Despite substantial progress in knowledge of how executive function operate at the level of the brain, there is only sparse neuroscience research about how executive function might be improved. What little research there is suggests that executive function is more fixed than malleable by intervention, but there are some hints that targeted improvement might be possible. In this section, I review recent neuroscientific studies on executive function with respect to three questions that are pertinent to goals and behavior change: What is the nature of executive function? Is executive function a limited resource? And can executive function be improved with practice?

What is the nature of executive function?

Executive function refers to a suite of higher-level cognitive skills and capacities that generally promote successful human functioning. Attention, task switching, working memory, and inhibitory control are usually described as executive functions, though there is debate about the precise definition of the term ( Banich, 2009 ). Executive function involves some degree of updating information, shifting focus between targets or mental sets, and inhibiting irrelevant or distracting information ( Miyake, Friedman, Emerson, Witzki, Howerter, & Wager, 2000 ). Rather than enter that debate, I will describe broad features of executive function that are shared across most definitions. These features are useful for providing clarity and context for the subsequent questions regarding the limits and improvability of executive functions.

Executive function has three characteristic features: it is effortful , operates consciously , and engaged in service of novel goals as opposed to rote or overlearned ones (e.g., Miyake & Friedman, 2012). Effortful means that they feel hard and must be completed serially. In fact, emerging evidence suggests that one function of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC; Figure 2 ), among several others, is to efficiently allocate cognitive resources by tracking the amount of mental work a task will require ( Shenhav, Cohen, & Botvinick, 2016 ). For example, activity in the dACC scales with the upcoming demand for control and also the potential payoff of that control ( Kouneiher, Charron, & Koechlin, 2009 ). It appears that the brain has dedicated regions not only to executing control but also allocating that control to various tasks.

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Regions implicated in the will and the way. Left: Lateral view featuring the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), premotor cortex (pMC) and motor cortex (MC), and the temporalparietal junction (TPJ) and supramarginal gyrus (SMG). Top Right: Medial view featuring the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and ventral striatum (vS), and the dorsomedial (dmPFC), medial (mPFC) and ventromedial (vmPFC) aspects of the prefrontal cortex. Bottom Right: Coronal view featuring the ventral (vS) and dorsolateral (dlS) aspects of the striatum.

Executive function is conscious, which means that it occurs within awareness and requires conscious attention. People know when they are engaging in executive function because it becomes the center of attention in a given moment. A classic example of executive function is mental math, such as multiplying 13 by 17. In contrast to things such as breathing or adding 1+1, you know when it happens because it occupies all of your attention, and it is generally voluntary. The steps involved in solving that problem recruit a host of executive functions surrounding attention: focusing attention on the appropriate column, swapping information in and out of attention, and restricting attention to the desired part of the operation to the exclusion of others. These short-term memory and attentional processes are supported by complex interactions among lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices including aspects of all three frontal gyri, the superior frontal sulcus and precentral gyrus, and the supramarginal gyrus and temporalparietal junction ( Figure 2 ; Nee, Brown, Askren, Berman, Demiralp, Krawitz, & Jonides, 2012 ). The role of these regions is not just to maintain information, but also to disengage attention from irrelevant or previously-relevant information as appropriate to the task ( Shipstead, Harrison, & Engle, 2016 ). The importance of redirecting attention underscores the limited-capacity nature of working memory and executive function more generally. Extensive cognitive processes and neural resources are dedicated to gating which information enjoys the focus of attention and which must be ignored. In this way, executive function generally, and attention specifically, play a key role in how open or closed we are to new ideas and perspectives during goal setting and goal striving.

In addition to feeling effortful and occupying conscious attention, a third characteristic property of executive function is that it specializes in novel tasks. It enables humans to do things that we’ve never done before. In fact, the basic role of the entire prefrontal cortex has been described broadly as coordinating behavior to achieve novel goals ( Miller & Cohen, 2001 ). The ability of our prefrontal cortex to plan and execute novel behaviors is one of the defining characteristics of humans and one that sets us apart from nearly all other animals. However, this ability is not unlimited. In light of the limited capacity of attention and working memory, the prefrontal cortex has a second function that is nearly as critical: to learn to automate novel behaviors to the point that they no longer take up precious space in consciousness. Research on this process of habit formation shows that as a particular behavior in a particular behavior is repeatedly rewarded, the systems that control it shift from the dorsomedial to the ventral and dorsolateral aspects of the striatum ( Figure 2 ; Yin, Mulcare, Kilario, Clouse, Holloway, Davis, et al., 2009 ). This shift is in part supported by the differential connectivity in these parts of the striatum, with the dorsomedial more strongly connected to the prefrontal and parietal cortices (involved in attention and working memory) and the other two parts of the striatum more strongly connected to the sensory and motor cortices ( Liljeholm & O’Doherty, 2012 ). That the process of routinizing behavior has a robust pathway embedded within some of the oldest structures in the brain speaks to the evolutionary importance of offloading effortful mental activities from the cortex as early and efficiently as possible. Thus, these regions are key for habit formation.

Is executive function a limited resource?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. Many readers will be familiar with the concept of ego depletion, or the idea that the “active self” that implements executive functions draws upon a finite resource that exhausts over time with repeated use, not unlike a fuel tank ( Baumeister, Bratlavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998 ). Though there are literally hundreds of published studies showing the effect ( Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarants, 2010 ), it is likely that many of those studies are false positives or unreliable ( Hagger, Chatzisarantis, Alberts, Anggono, Batailler, Birt, et al., 2016 ). A large, highly powered, preregistered study recently failed to replicate the ego depletion effect ( Lurquin, Michaelson, Barker, Gustavson, von Bastian, Carruth, et al., 2016 ), and a meta-analysis uncovered evidence of publication bias in the ego depletion field such that studies finding the effect are much more likely to appear in print than those that do not ( Carter & McCullough, 2014 ).

On a deeper level, there is strong counter-evidence to the basic ego depletion effect, for example that taking a short break, watching a fun film clip, or even smoking a cigarette can reverse the effect (see Inzlicht & Berkman, 2015 for a summary). Active-self processes such as executive function are unlikely to draw upon a limited physiological resource if simple psychological manipulations can replenish it. Even more suggestive, there is strong physiological evidence that the neuronal processes involved in executive function demand no more energy than simpler functions or even than the brain at rest (see Kurzban, 2010 , for a review). There is simply no special physiological resource for executive function to deplete. The bottom line is that people get tired when they work hard – which is nothing new – but that, contrary to popular belief about ego depletion, that sense of fatigue is mostly psychological and can be short circuited by a short rest and a variety of positive experiences.

But what about the experience of depletion? Everyone has the intuition that some mental activities – certainly including executive function – feel hard and seem to drain our energy. The answer may be found by adjusting our understanding what exactly the limited resource is. The original formulation of ego depletion hypothesized a physiological resource, likely centered in the brain. That prediction is no longer tenable given the data. Newer models focus on the contributions of psychological and motivational factors to depletion instead beyond strictly physiological ones. For example, a shift in priorities from effortful, obligation-based, and prevention-focused “have-to” goals to enjoyable, desire-based, promotion-focused “want-to” goals could explain the decline in performance on tough cognitive tasks ( Inzlicht, Schmeichel, & Macrae, 2014 ); perhaps the “resource” is prioritization. Another possibility is that depletion results from an interaction between psychological processes, such as perceptions of upcoming task demands and available resources, and physiological factors including the peripheral nervous system, hormones, and afferent inputs ( Evans, Boggero, & Segerstrom, 2016 ).

A psychological model that fits particularly well with the characterization of executive function above focuses on its opportunity cost ( Kurzban, Duckworth, Kable, & Myers, 2013 ). Because we can only focus our executive function capacity on one task at a time, then any time we engage in one executive function task we are likely forgoing others. The cost of what we’re giving up is reflected in the sense of effort that comes along with executive function. The feeling of depletion, therefore, reflects the tipping point when the cost of putting off alternative tasks begins to outweigh the benefit of continuing on the current course of action ( Berkman, Kahn, & Livingston, 2016 ).

The evidence at this point indicates that executive function is limited in terms of bandwidth – how much can be done or stored or attended to in a given moment – but not in terms of duration in the ego depletion sense. That limit stems directly from the properties of the executive function system: the facts that only a small amount of information can be consciously accessible and operated upon in a given moment ( Unsworth, Fukuda, Awh, & Vogel, 2015 ), and that we actively track the processing costs of potential cognitive operations with respect to ongoing goals ( Westbrook & Braver, 2015 ). For precisely this reason, executive function was likened by the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead to cavalry in an army, “Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle – they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.” (pp. 61; Whitehead, 1911 ).

Can executive function be improved with practice?

There is naturally great interest in the question of whether executive function can be improved, expanded, or strengthened with practice given its bandwidth limitations. Study of this kind of “brain training” is an active research area and a controversial one. Some researchers make claims about the ability to improve executive function with training ( Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, & Shah, 2011 ), though these claims have been tempered by compelling counter-evidence ( Redick, Shipstead, Harrison, Hicks, Fried, Hambrick, et al., 2013 ). A fair characterization of the research to date is that people can certainly improve on a given executive function task with practice, but there is no evidence that practice generalizes to other, even closely related tasks, and task-specific improvements are unlikely to endure over time ( Berkman, 2016 ).

The core issue in executive function training is transfer , or whether the improvements on a training task generalize to other tasks. In some theories such as the Strength Model, on which the ego depletion hypothesis is based, executive function is a common resource that is shared across many discrete capacities (e.g., working memory and self-control), so expanding that common resource should improve a range of executive abilities ( Muraven, 2010 ). However, counter-evidence to ego depletion specifically and the Strength Model generally have raised the question about whether a common underlying resource even exists ( Inzlicht et al., 2014 ). A recent meta-analysis of studies attempting to train one form of executive function, self-control, revealed a negligible transfer effect ( Inzlicht & Berkman, 2015 ). Additionally, at least two highly-powered studies have failed to find generalizable training effects on executive function despite showing practice effects on the training task ( Miles, Sheeran, Baird, Macdonald, Webb, & Harris, in press ; Redick et al., 2013 ).

What is happening? Neuroscientific investigations provide some clues. A series of training studies on inhibitory control, an executive function involving the prevention of ongoing or prepotent behavior, found that performance on an inhibitory control task improves with practice and does not transfer to other tasks. Interestingly, to the degree that performance on the training task improved, activity in the lateral prefrontal regions and dACC that is associated with successful inhibitory control shifted earlier in time, peaking in anticipation of the need for control ( Beauchamp, Kahn, & Berkman, 2016 ; Berkman, Kahn, & Merchant, 2014 ). This effect can be characterized as a reactive-to-proactive shift in the neural activation involved in inhibitory control, and is akin to gently applying a car’s brakes when a light turns yellow instead of slamming on the brakes only upon a red light.

The observed shift in brain activity from later to earlier in time fits well with the general characteristics of executive function described earlier. Inhibitory control feels hard and occupies attention, so it is beneficial to the individual to automate the operation when possible. With enough practice and exposure, the habit learning system discovers regularities in the environment that allow the need for inhibitory control to be anticipated using contextual cues. Just as the frequent association of a yellow light with a red light teaches experienced drivers to automatically move their foot to the brake when seeing a yellow, so too do participants in inhibitory control training studies learn the specific task cues that anticipate the need for control. This cue-learning effect in training occurs automatically ( Lenartowicz, Verbruggen, Logan, & Poldrack, 2011 ), suggesting that performance improvements during inhibitory control training studies are a result of the transfer of at least some effortful behavior to the habit system. Habits increase efficiency during goal striving.

This habit learning process also explains the lack of transfer to new tasks. The advantages of executive function are mirrored in the limitations of the habit learning system. Specifically, while executive function evolved to deal with novel challenges, habit learning evolved for routine ones. Habits create efficiency by shrinking the range of responses in a situation down to one behavior. By function, they forestall new and creative behaviors in that situation. Habitual behaviors are triggered by specific contextual cues, which is why habits do not require vigilant and costly monitoring; that work is offloaded to more efficient stimulus-response mappings. The tradeoff is that habitual behaviors are necessarily tied to a particular context. If the cues that had been associated with a response change, then the habitual response will no longer emerge. For example, the ease of slowing on a yellow would be lost if the cue that preceded a red light suddenly became blue instead. In the case of executive function, training doesn’t transfer to new contexts (or tasks) because the cues are different. The brain treats the tests of transfer as novel tasks, which is exactly what executive function evolved to deal with in the first place.

Lessons learned from neuroscience about “the way”

The neuroscience literature on executive function offers some practical if not entirely hopeful advice about the “way” of behavior change. The first lesson is that executive function feels hard for a reason. It is a serial process, so the sense of effort that accompanies executive function is a signal that working on a difficult task necessarily means losing out on other opportunities. In other words, effort reflects an opportunity cost. In this view, effort also signals one’s internal priorities; the more important the alternatives are, the harder a focal task will feel. The inverse is also true: a given task will feel relatively easy when it is more important to a person than the alternative choices. Consultants and coaches can work with clients to reflect on their priorities and make them explicit, which can explain why some goals feel harder than others.

The mental processes related to the “way” operate sequentially, not in parallel. Executive functions can only be performed one at a time, so the most important ones should come first even if executive processing will not exhaust over time with use. Based on the portrait of executive function drawn here, the factors that influence the capacity for executive function most directly are other concurrent cognitive operations and the relative importance of the task compared to other possibilities. Together, this suggests that it is optimal to carve out dedicated, distraction-free time to work on important novel tasks and challenges ( Berkman & Rock, 2014 ). Our cognitive bandwidth is precious and operates most efficiently in (mental) solitude. Licensing clients to reserve work time specifically for new tasks can help.

Our executive function abilities evolved to help us deal with novel challenges. So, the precious resource of executive function should be brought to bear on any and all aspects of behavior change, such as goal setting, that benefit from openness to new ideas, broadened attention, and a wide survey of possibilities. In contrast, habit formation evolved to create efficiency by rigidly attaching one behavior to one cue. Habits can be formed to aid in other aspects of behavior change, such as goal striving, that benefit from a narrower focus and relatively consistent, fixed behaviors in a given situation.

Finally, there is not much evidence that executive function can be improved broadly by focused interventions (e.g., Lumosity; Redick et al., 2013 ; Shute, Ventura, & Ke, 2015 ), and some compelling counter-evidence. However, complex mental operations can become routinized by leveraging the habit learning system ( Foerde, Knowlton, & Poldrack, 2006 ). Habit learning is facilitated when the new behavior is consistently preceded by specific cues and then rewarded. This procedure can be particularly useful for behavior change if the new behavior will occur repeatedly in similar contexts. Research is underway to test whether a highly variable set of cues used in training can broaden the range of contexts to which training effects generalize. Nonetheless, some executive functions such as working memory may simply be fixed capacities for neuroarchitectural reasons ( Zhange & Luck, 2008 ). Rather than attempting to improve executive function generally, consultants and coaches should help their clients focus on improving specifically the skillsets relevant to the goal or new behavior. These will improve with practice and, with some proper motivation, become habitual in time.

The neuroscience of the “will”: Motivation, Reward, and Subjective Value

The question of what motivates behavior, in a general sense, runs at least back to the Greeks, with Plato’s famous analogy of the charioteer and his horses, through William James and Abraham Maslow, and continues to this day. In contrast, the question of what motivates behavior change has received considerably less attention. Psychologists have developed taxonomies of different “stages of change” to capture individual variability in readiness to engage in sustained behavior change (Transtheoretical Model; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992 ), and of different types of behaviors within a person to capture relatively self-motivated, “intrinsic” versus more externally-motivated, “extrinsic” types of goals (Self-Determination Theory; Deci & Ryan, 2000 ). Much of this work is descriptive rather than prescriptive – it says what motivation is but does not indicate how to increase it. A person can be confidently described as in the precontemplation stage, but there is not much evidence-backed knowledge about moving him or her to the contemplation stage; likewise, some behaviors are clearly extrinsically motivated, though there is a lack of prescriptive advice about how one can transform them into intrinsically motivated ones.

As it did with studies on the “way,” neuroimaging research provides some clues about how to increase motivation to change a specific behavior. In this section, I review neuroscientific insights into the “way” of behavior change surrounding three questions that are relevant to consulting psychology. Which brain systems are involved in motivational processes? How do those systems interact with other networks in the brain? And what does neuroscience indicate about motivating behavior change?

How and where is motivation represented in the brain?

Motivation is conceptualized here as the strength of the desire to attain a particular outcome, irrespective of how pleasant or unpleasant the experience of actually attaining it is. This distinction between the motivational component of a reward – “wanting” – and the hedonic component of consuming it – “liking” – is maintained with remarkable evolutionary consistency in the brains of both humans and animals ( Berridge & Robinson, 2003 ). I focus here on the “wanting” side because of its direct bearing on behavior and behavior change. Wanting a reward is closely tied with activity of mesolimbic dopaminergic neurons, particularly within the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex ( Berridge, 2006 ; Figure 2 ), which is sometimes also called the orbitofrontal cortex ( Wallis, 2007 ). Of course, there are many other regions and interactions involved in reward learning, but I focus on these because they are the best characterized in terms of human functional neuroanatomy to date.

The dopaminergic reward system has been conserved evolutionarily because it plays a critical role in the reinforcement learning cycle. When a particular behavior in a given context it is rewarded, that behavior and context are paired and tagged with reward value for later repetition ( Rescorla & Wagner, 1972 ). Reinforcement learning is why behaviors that are rewarded are likely to be repeated in the future. (This is also why the dopamine system is implicated in addictive behavior.) The amount of cumulative, learned reward value of a behavior is its expected value, sometimes referred to as subjective value ( Rangel & Hare, 2010 ). In short, subjective value represents the amount of reward that an actor expects to receive for a given action, largely based on past learning. This learning cycle is one of the key impediments to behavior change: old behavior has been rewarded and new behavior has not. A protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is important for maintaining new behaviors after engaging in them initially because of its critical role in memory consolidation ( Bekinschtein et al., 2008 ). As described in the following sections, the key to launching this reward learning and consolidation cycle is finding ways to increase the subjective value of new behavior.

A notable feature of activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is that it represents the subjective values of diverse types of actions, presumably to facilitate “apples to oranges” decisions between qualitatively different behaviors ( Levy & Glimcher, 2011 ). For example, activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex tracks the value of approach appetitive and avoiding aversive stimuli ( Tom, Fox, Trepel, & Poldrack, 2007 ), and also the subjective value of a range of stimulus types, including food, money, gains for the self and others, charitable decisions, and emotional and utilitarian benefits of moral actions ( Hare, Camerer, Knoepfle, O’Doherty, & Rangel, 2010 ; Hutcherson, Montaser-Kouhsari, Woodward, & Rangel, 2015 ; Lebreton, Jorge, Michel, Thirion, & Pessiglione, 2009 ; Zaki, Lopez, & Mitchell, 2014 ). These findings converge on the idea that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays a central role in tracking the subjective value of different kinds of actions during choice, which strongly implicates that region in motivational processing during behavior change.

How do motivation regions interact with other brain systems?

One way to approach the deeper issue of where motivation originates is to examine the connectivity of its neural systems. In the same way that it is adaptive to humans and informative to scientists that sensory and motor regions in the brain are adjacent and highly interconnected, the regions involved in motivation are themselves intertwined with several other brain networks. Those interrelations contain insights about how motivation operates and how it might be increased in the service of behavior change.

As Self-Determination Theory suggests, autonomously choosing to engage in a behavior (relative to being forced) increases performance on that behavior because autonomy is an intrinsic motive. At the neural level, autonomy also prevents a reduction in reward system activity in the face of negative feedback, particularly in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex ( Murayama, Matsumoto, Izuma, Sugiura, Ryan, Deci, et al., 2013 ). Interestingly, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex has also been found to be active in studies of self-processing and particularly of self-affirmation , such as considering one’s core personal values ( Cascio, O’Donnell, Tinney, Lieberman, Taylor, Strecher, et al., 2016 ). Brain activation related to self-affirmation during health messaging has even been shown to predict the eventual degree of health behavior change that would follow ( Falk, O’Donnell, Cascio, Tinney, Kang, Lieberman, et al., 2015 ). Finally, a meta-analysis using the Neurosynth study database ( Yarkoni, Poldrack, Nichols, Van Essen, & Wager, 2011 ) found that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was one of the largest regions of overlap between 812 studies on identity (“self” and “self-referential” terms in the database) and 324 subjective value and reward (“value” term in the database). The meta-analysis contained several regions along the medial cortical wall including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the mid-cingulate. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex was the single largest cluster to be consistently associated with both identity and value.

The overlap between intrinsic goals, core values, and subjective value has several implications for consulting psychology. First, identity (e.g., self-concept) and subjective value are closely functionally connected to one another. This is not a surprise given the extensive evidence from social psychology and other fields that people have disproportionate positive regard for themselves (and behaviors related to the self) compared to others ( Greenwald, 1980 ; Pelham & Swann, 1989 ). We want, and perhaps need, to see our selves as good ( Rosenberg, 1979 ). Second, the value derived from identity and other self-related processes may have a special status compared to other sources of value (e.g., monetary) because of the high degree of overlap in the neural systems and conceptual representation of identity and value. It may even be that identity and value are inseparable, leading one researcher to hypothesize that the defining function of the self is to organize and prioritize the world by assigning it motivational significance ( Northoff & Hayes, 2011 ). By this definition, the self-concept is exactly the set of places, things, and actions in the world that hold value.

It is important to note that the valuation process subserved by the vmPFC reflects not only positive value, but negative value as well. For example, just as social affiliation holds positive value, the threat of social rejection can be highly negative in value. The experience of social rejection invokes similar brain networks as physical pain ( Lieberman & Eisenberger, 2015 ). Beyond its unpleasantness, this experience can enhance defensiveness and facilitate a stress response that detracts from other ongoing goals because it narrows attentional focus on the social threat ( Muscatell et al., 2016 ).

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex and related dopaminergic motivational structures also interact with cognitive networks, including those related to executive function ( Botvinick & Braver, 2015 ). The ventromedial prefrontal cortex appears to be a point of convergence where the motivational value of various options in a choice are integrated, notably including both effortful actions that require cognitive control and also easier, more hedonic ones ( Bartra, McGuire, & Kable, 2013 ). For example, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is functionally connected with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex when higher-order goals such as health concerns or social factors are made salient ( Hare et al., 2010 ; Hutcherson, Plassman, Gross, & Rangel, 2012 ). There is also evidence that the value of potential actions are reflected in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex before any specific action plans is selected ( Wunderlich, Rangel, & O’Doherty, 2010 ), but that value signals provide input to downstream brain regions that are responsible for selecting and implementing behavior ( Hare, Schultz, Camerer, O’Doherty, & Rangel, 2011 ). Taken together, then, the emergent view from the neuroscience literature is that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex receives a variety of value signals relevant to decisions about behavior, and its activation reflects a dynamic value integration process that subsequently biases behavior toward higher-valued actions. A promising route to increasing motivation, then, is identifying the value inputs to a new behavior (i.e., the reasons why the behavior is or is not valued) and learning ways to modulate them. I address this possibility in the next section.

How can motivation be increased?

The neurally-informed model described above suggests that motivation is guided by an integration of the value of features of the behavioral options. Behavior change can be accomplished by amplifying the value of the new (goal-related) behavior, reducing the value of old (goal-counter or goal-unrelated) behaviors, or some combination of the two. A clear example of the effectiveness of the first approach is contingency management treatment for substance use disorders ( Bigelow & Silverman, 1999 ), in which the value of drug abstinence is increased with monetary incentives. A meta-analysis found this approach to have an effect size d = 0.42 on treatment for alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs, which was larger than therapy (d = 0.25) and outpatient treatment (d = 0.37), and comparable to methadone treatment for opiate use ( Prendergast, Podus, Finney, Greenwell, & Roll, 2006 ). Similarly, “precommitting” to buy more healthy foods at the risk of losing financial incentives is more effective than having the incentives alone ( Schwartz, Mochon, Wyper, Maroba, Patel, & Ariely, 2014 ). Monetary incentives also increase persistence at exercise ( Cabanac, 1986 ), endurance on a cold-pressor task ( Baker & Kirsch, 1991 ), and performance on a difficult cognitive task ( Boksem, Meijman, & Lorist, 2006 ). Simple monetary payments are an effective way to motivate behavior change.

“Money walks,” as the saying goes, but its scarcity makes it a less than ideal option for many goal pursuit contexts. Above, I noted the deep connections between identity and motivation. Other researchers have, too, and are now beginning to deploy identity interventions to increase motivation. For example, one study leveraged the fact that most people consider willpower to be a desirable trait ( Magen & Gross, 2007 ). The participants in that study completed an executive function task twice, and in between were randomly assigned to reconstrue the task itself as a measure of their own willpower or not. Performance improved from the first to the second run only among participants whose perceptions of the task were changed from non-diagnostic to diagnostic of willpower. Similarly, noting that identity is somewhat susceptible to cognitive shifts such as framing, construal, or priming effects, other researchers used a simple “noun-verb” manipulation to increase motivation for behavior change, presumably through a subtle shift in the extent to which the new behavior is construed as identity-relevant. For example, phrasing questions about voting intentions in terms of identity (noun: “being a voter”) instead of an action (verb: “voting”) increased voting intentions and actual turnout in statewide elections ( Bryan, Walton, Rogers, & Dweck, 2011 ). In another study, participants were less likely to cheat by claiming money they were not entitled to if that behavior was described as a (negative) identity (noun: “being a cheater”) instead of an action (verb: “cheating”; Bryan, Adams, & Monin, 2013 ). Each of these results is consistent with the idea that identity can influence motivation, presumably by highlighting the subjective value of desired (e.g., “voter”, “willpower”) or undesired (e.g., “cheater”) identity. This path is a promising future direction for motivation interventions because it is low-cost, modest in scope, and easily scalable to a broad range of populations and types of desired identities.

Finally, merely highlighting certain attributes of a behavior can alter the value placed on that behavior. After all, our attentional bandwidth is fairly narrow, so not all relevant properties will be equally salient at all times. For example, people’s motivation to act on a choice option increases as attention is allocated to it ( Krajbich, Armel, & Rangel, 2010 ). In another study ( Hare et al., 2011 ), participants were presented with health-versus-taste decisions with or without reminders about health. As expected, health reminders increased the likelihood of healthy choices. Tellingly, the healthiness rating of the foods (assessed earlier, and separate from the tastiness) was strongly correlated with activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex at the moment of decision, which in turn predicted the food choice. In contrast, when unhealthy foods were selected, the earlier tastiness ratings were correlated with ventromedial prefrontal cortex activity during choice. The results of these studies are broadly consistent with psychological framing effects (e.g., gain vs. loss frame; Kahneman & Tversky, 1984 ), whereby altering the relative salience of the features of a decision can dramatically change it. Though they are most often applied to decision-making, the neuroscientific evidence presented here suggests that motivation may also be susceptible to framing effects.

In light of the present framework, I focused on ways to increase motivation that are grounded in valuation. But there are other ways to increase motivation from complementary lines of research that nonetheless may be connected to subjective value. For example, Higgins has argued that people experience “value from fit” when their regulatory style (promotion versus prevention focus) matches the particular means through which goals are pursued ( Higgins, Idson, Freitas, Spiegel, & Molden, 2003 ). A similar “matching” effect on motivation has been observed with achievement motivation and performance goals: people high in achievement motivation experience greater intrinsic motivation when provided with performance (vs. mastery) goals, whereas people low in achievement motivation experience greater intrinsic motivation with mastery (vs. performance) goals ( Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1994 ). A plausible cause of these kinds of “matching” effects, which can be tested in future research, is that there is subjective value in experiencing fit between one’s dispositional tendencies and the nature of the goal at hand.

Lessons learned from neuroscience about “the will”

Neuroscientific investigations of motivation have established the major brain systems for motivation and identified ways that those systems interact with other parts of the brain. This knowledge, in turn, contains clues about how motivation works and how to increase it on the psychological level. Two are particularly relevant to consulting psychology.

The first lesson surrounds the extent to which motivation is tied to the past. The neural mechanisms of reinforcement learning are some of the most basic and ancient parts of our brains. For good reason, we evolved to be highly sensitive to learn where we receive rewards and to work hard to recreate the situations that brought them about. Attempting to change behavior in a systematic way by engaging in new behaviors, which have never been reinforced, often means working against this powerful system. Thus, wise advice for clients that is grounded in the neuroscience of motivation and reinforcement learning is to start behavior change with modest goals and reward even the smallest steps toward them. New behaviors emerge slowly because they are usually working against the power of prior reinforcement. Consultants and coaches can help clients anticipate and understand the difficulty of behavior change by explaining the neuroscience of reinforcement learning. Being cognizant of the challenges of behavior change can prevent frustration on both sides.

The second lesson is to leverage the intrinsic connections between the motivation system and other parts of the brain, particularly self and identity. The elaborated web of memories, beliefs, values, objects, and relationships that comprise our sense of self is paralleled perhaps only by executive function in its distinctiveness to humans. And it may offer a pathway to behavior change and goal achievement that is just as potent. A behavior will hold greater subjective value to the degree that it is related to one’s core values and sense of self. Identity-linked goals are more likely to be successful than identity-irrelevant or identity-counter ones. Consultants and coaches can be particularly helpful to clients in this arena by helping them discover core aspects of their self-concepts and the ways those aspects are linked to the behavior change at hand. And remember that identity is not a fixed construct, but rather is susceptible to framing, reconstrual, and other kinds of subtle influences. To some extent, motivation can be gained by finding ways to think about goals that makes their connection to important parts of one’s identity salient. Sometimes it is easier for other people to make these connections than for us because they have more distance from them ( Berkman & Rock, 2014 ); coaches can be particularly helpful in this regard. Paying people works, too, but connecting goals to the self-concept in various ways may be a more sustainable and accessible approach to increasing motivation.

Pursing goals and changing behavior is hard. Neuroscience will never change that fact, but it can provide some brain-level explanations for the difficulty as well as some new insights about how to mitigate it. This article reviewed the neuroscientific literatures on the “way” of goal pursuit – the set of cognitive skills, capacities, and abilities collectively known as executive function – and the “will” – the motivational factors that propel behavior. Although parts of the “way” are limited by constraints that may be difficult to change, the “will” can be influenced by incentives both within the person and without. Though neuroscientific investigations into long-term behavior change are only just starting to emerge they have already begun to contribute to the body of practical scientific knowledge about goals. The science and practice of consulting psychology will benefit directly from this research in the coming years.

Functional neuroanatomy of key networks


This work was supported by grants AG048840, CA175241, and DA035763 from the National Institutes of Health to ETB, as well as support from the Bezos Family Foundation and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University.

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Critical Assignment: Behavior Change Project, Essay Example

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As humans, we have made decisions regarding our behaviours as we have progressed through life, but we must also acknowledge that we may need to adjust our actions from time to time. It can be tough to change our behaviour, mainly because there are so many elements that determine the type of conduct we engage in in the first place. It might be challenging to change our behaviours when so many factors influence what we do. Our social status, abilities, and cultural background are all characteristics that impact our lives and are difficult to change (Bailey, 2017). The Transtheoretical Model was developed to understand better how people modify their behaviour, which is generally addictive, such as smoking. The steps that people go through when striving to change their behaviour are depicted in this model. The behaviours that I decided to change are my nocturnal lifestyle, caffeine use, and excess sugar consumption. These need to be changed and replaced with healthy behaviours.

Other models that could be used to modify behaviour other than the transtheoretical models include the health belief model, which seeks to comprehend the failure of people to have and adopt strategies for disease prevention and early detection of diseases through screening tests (Hilliard et al., 2018). It predicts the adoption of behaviour through a person’s belief in a personal threat of illness. The Theory of Planned Behavior is a theory that can be used in behaviour modification and adoption. It is a unique theory in that it predicts the intentions of an individual to engage in a particular behaviour at a specified place and time. This theory has been widely and successfully used in predicting health behaviours like drinking and smoking (Hilliard et al., 2018).

My behavioural and familial concerns include PTSD, asthma, depression, anxiety, pre-diabetes, and IBS. Some of the listed problems, like asthma, run in my family, like my grandfather and mother, but I developed pre-diabetes, IBS, and PTSD as an adult. Postpartum depression exacerbated my anxiety after giving birth to my daughter. I ate poorly and worried about things I couldn’t control.

Psychological debriefing therapies include seeking advice on dealing with the condition and seeing a counsellor help cope with the circumstance. Stress management is another technique to deal with PTSD. Diabetes and IBS are often prevented by managing diets and avoiding bad eating habits like high-fat foods, increasing physical activity, avoiding alcohol, and boosting fibre consumption. Finally, the most excellent method to address anxiety and sadness is avoiding negative situations and finding ways to express myself, such as weekly counselling. Getting enough sleep and sticking to a treatment plan can also help prevent depression.

Eating healthy foods is one of the habits I can adopt to ensure success. Second, going for walks and mingling with friends can help clear the mind and help with sadness and anxiety. Anxiety and depression require support groups. Third, increasing my physical activity helps me maintain a healthy weight and avoid diseases like diabetes, often inherited. Finally, talking about our problems with loved ones can help prevent PTSD.

Getting a companion that can divert me from traumatic occurrences is vital. In severe circumstances, seek psychiatric help. I should also discover support groups that deal with such situations to learn how to control them. Changing routines is the best method to alter risky habits. Most behaviours begin with a brain cue. The brain then creates a practice of action based on pleasure or reward. This pattern must be broken. For example, not exercising can be damaged by knowing more about the risks. This inspires other affected people and me.

I need to understand how habits like eating high-fat foods develop and how I utilize them to cope. It’s easy to comprehend and modify behaviours now. Change an activity that frequently brings me to a drive-through, such as a route. This is crucial because it promotes a positive attitude towards a healthy diet and regular exercise. It’s also vital to stay cheerful. This is vital to avoiding stressful situations that might lead to melancholy and anxiety. Positive thinking is critical for avoiding toxic people and situations that often feel sadness and stress in the vulnerable. Making regular therapist visits is also crucial because it helps learn about difficulties like PTSD and how to regulate them. After all, they aren’t always prevented.

The concept of health behaviour may affect sleep health. These assumptions help predict and alter sleep hygiene behaviour. I need to understand what influences my goals and actions to enhance my behaviour. Because, like other health-related behaviours, changing personal habits can affect sleep (e.g., sleep environment and timing). To build a theory-based therapy, I first need to comprehend HBT.

According to HBT, SH has a broad spectrum of health behaviours (e.g., caffeine consumption, napping, and exercise). Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bedtime, all of which I don’t do consistently. I had good intentions of cutting back on drinks and food tonight, but I made terrible decisions about avoiding coffee and sleeping. Other studies revealed similar views on sleep duration and coffee usage (Hilliard et al., 2018).

Except for sleep length goals, HBT predicts most sleep hygiene practices. Establishing intentions to get proper sleep depends on one’s sense of control over the situation. These theories can modify and predict sleep hygiene (Christiansen et al., 2018). Identifying the things that influence SH’s intentions and behaviour will help us target them. Due to the increased public awareness of sleep as a health concern, HBM, for example, may improve sleep health. People who lack sleep may not be aware that they are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Believing in the danger to one’s health and believing that specific activity (having 7–9 hours of sleep per night) will lessen it. Conversely, this approach is frequently employed to prevent or manage the disease. The HBM’s intuitive components make it particularly useful for public health programs (Bailey, 2017).

These concepts are flawed because non-voluntary variables might impact behaviour, and mulling over a recurring option seems wasteful. Second, these theories don’t adequately address the behavioural skills required for compliance. The final flaw in these theories is that they ignore where people receive their ideas and how those ideas influence other behaviours. They may overlook factors such as power ties, social reputations, and the possibility that risky conduct involves more than one person. Another theory is that people focus on one hazard and protective behaviour, neglecting other potential risks. (Christiansen et al., 2018).

The transtheoretical model is applied to many stages where they are most effective. Individuals, through this model, move through stages of change that include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and finally, termination. Progression through these stages needs the application of evaluative, cognitive, and practical processes. In many parts of this project, I have used this model to change my behaviour and, at the same time, measure the progress made from the beginning. To achieve change, I used the stages of change to gauge how I fit into the spectrum and its processes to eliminate my negative, unhealthy habits (Sulat et al., 2018).

My nocturnal lifestyle is an unhealthy habit I would like to change. A SMART goal for my intention is to start on March 28 and end on April 11, and I will go to bed 30 minutes earlier than the day before and wake up 30 minutes earlier than the day before while using a calendar to track my progress daily. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by stress from balancing some of life’s obstacles. Also, I often feel sad for no reason. My habit of waking up early and going to bed after 2 or 3 am can be one of the causes of my mood swings. Therefore, I should take steps toward improving my sleeping habits. It must be said that caffeine and excess sugar consumption are other unhealthy habits I have been developing for the past couple of years. I eat at least one meal a day and drink 2 to 4 cups of coffee a day from Starbucks. One could hardly argue that caffeine and excess sugar consumption increase the risk of developing diseases.

There are two distinct barriers I might encounter while achieving the goal. My anxiety is an intangible barrier. At the same time, all the deadlines that run through my head between work, school, and keeping up with family schedules are also significant barriers. I have found a book that supplies practical tips for overcoming the identified intangible barrier to achieving my goal. Meanwhile, I will ask my family members to support me in improving my scheduling and sleeping habits. I am sure they will understand and keep me.

Well-being is not just about the absence of disease but is a combination of a person’s health factors that are physical, emotional, and mental. Well-being is linked to being satisfied and having high levels of happiness. Intimacy and a happy relationship with a partner and close friends influence well-being. Enough sleep, healthy nutrition, willingness to change, and a sense of purpose and meaning all positively impact an individual’s wellbeing.

In healthcare, policies and procedures are put in place to ensure that everything is done the same way. We rely on policies and procedures to provide direction when dealing with issues of health and safety, legal responsibility, and compliance with government regulations. There is no denying the significance of healthcare policies and procedures, but the ideal way to deal with them varies from firm to firm. Policy and procedure manuals are critical, and we thought it would be helpful to share what we’ve learned about their significance. Our goal is to offer practical solutions that enable healthcare facilities to manage policies and other documents to boost productivity and efficiency while still adhering to regulatory requirements. ” Then again, it’s possible that we aren’t the perfect fit for every company.

To achieve the desired objectives, it provides a framework for making decisions. Policies and procedures are designed to convey the organization’s goals to employees. Employees are taught about their jobs and obligations by these people. Healthcare policy must provide safe and cost-effective treatment. New regulations and responsibilities like the Affordable Care Act, HIPAA, and Meaningful Use have made it more challenging to design standards and effectively communicate them to employees.

Bailey, R. R. (2017). Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine , 13 (6), 615–618. ttps://doi.org/10.1177/1559827617729634

Baughman, N., Prescott, S., & Rooney, R. (2020). The Prevention of Anxiety and Depression in Early Childhood. Frontiers In Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.517896

Christiansen, C. L., Miller, M. J., Murray, A. M., Stephenson, R. O., Stevens-Lapsley, J. E., Hiatt, W. R., & Schenkman, M. L. (2018). Behaviour-Change Intervention Targeting Physical Function, Walking, and Disability After Dysvascular Amputation: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation , 99 (11), 2160–2167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2018.04.011

Facer-Childs, E.R., Middleton, B., Skene, D.J., Bagshaw, A.P. (2019). Resetting the late timing of ‘night owls’ has a positive impact on mental health and performance. Sleep Medicine, 60; 236-247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2019.05.001

Hilliard, M.E., Riekert, K.A., Ockene, J.K. and Pbert, L. (2018). The handbook of health behaviour change . 5th ed. New York, Ny Springer Publishing Company.

Jacques, A., Chaaya, N., Beecher, K., Ali, S. A., Belmer, A., & Bartlett, S. (2019). The impact of sugar consumption on stress-driven, emotional and addictive behaviours. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews , 103 , 178–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.021

Janke, J., & Handy, S. (2019). How life course events trigger bicycling attitudes and behaviour changes: Insights into causality. Travel Behaviour and Society , 16 , 31–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2019.03.004

Mayo Clinic, M. (2022). Diabetes prevention: 5 tips for taking control. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 12 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/indepth/diabetes-prevention/art-20047639.

Mead, M. P., & Irish, L. A. (2020). Application of health behaviour theory to sleep health improvement. Journal of Sleep Research, 29(5), e12950.

Sulat, J. S., Prabandari, Y. S., Sanusi, R., Hapsari, E. D., & Santoso, B. (2018). The validity of health belief model variables in predicting behavioural change: a scoping review. Health Education.

Monday, March 28 – I prepared for bedtime by setting a bedtime notification on all my devices, such as my apple watch and cell phone. I opted for my sleep to be at 10:30 pm. I needed to be realistic the first night as I still needed to prepare dinner, lunch for my husband the next day, bathe, comb my daughter’s hair, and put her to bed at 8 pm. I then read for upcoming assignments for class for an hour and got myself prepared for bed which was at midnight. To say the less, I was unsuccessful.

Tuesday, March 29 – I woke up at 7:30 am, washed my face, and dressed for the day. After taking my supplements, I took my pup out for a 20 min walk. I came back, and although I had an urge for a cup of coffee, I had a glass of water and a bowl of oatmeal. I worked and pushed myself to take breaks, even if to stretch every 20-30 minutes. After my husband and daughter came home, I prepared dinner at 4:30 pm, and everyone ate by 5:45 pm. I prepared my daughter for bed and daycare and prepared my husband’s lunch for the next day. I got my daughter in bed by 7:30 pm, and I got myself ready for bed, and I was able to rest before my 10:30 pm-notification, so I changed the notification on my phone from 10:30 pm to 9:30 since I was in bed at 9:15 pm.

Wednesday, March 30 – I feel well-rested and woke up at 5:30 am, did my ritual, took time for God, read this morning, and prayed to release anxiety and worry. This is my sleeping habit because I am an overachiever, and I do not want to fail. I just felt the urge to release myself and have a clear mind. At 7:45 am, I took my pup for a twenty-five-minute walk, had a protein shake, and started my day with work, taking thirty minutes between meetings. I made a stretch meal at 2:30 pm and set my daughter’s clothes out for the week’s rest. When they came home, they could sit and eat their dinner, and we talked about their day. I got my daughter ready for bed at 7 pm, and I was able to read a devotional with my husband, and we prayed together. After getting ready for bed, I lay down before 9 pm.

Thursday, March 31 – I woke up at 3:30 am. I had to take my daughter to daycare in Los Angeles due to his location change. I got her to daycare at 5 am and headed back on the road, an hour’s drive each way. By the time I got back home at 6:15 am, I started working and did my schoolwork on lunch for an hour. Since I had made a stretch meal the previous night, I did not have to cook, allowing extra time to focus elsewhere. Towards the end of my work shift, I had to complete some last-minute reporting which heightened my anxiety. I worked until 2:30 am and did not go to bed until 4 am.

Friday, April 1 – Today, I woke up at 7 am with a chaotic night and early morning. I took a shower to wake up and feel refreshed. Before starting my day, I said a prayer and meditated for 10 minutes to have a clear mind. Everything ran smoothly throughout the morning, and I was able to take a 30 min walk with my dog. As the day progressed, I started to feel very tired, so I asked my husband if he needed anything before turning in and going to bed at 6 pm.

Saturday, April 2 – I woke up at 9:30 a refreshed. My husband and I had a planned double date dinner with family, which I was looking forward to our evening. After doing our Saturday cleaning, we took our daughter out on a lunch date, which we try to do every other weekend, to her favourite restaurant Apple Bee’s. I felt a little tired, so we came home and took a 30-minute power nap before the outing. I was able to have a wonderful time, and I was able to go to bed at 10:30 pm.

Sunday, April 3 – My alarm went off at 9 am. I completed my homework assignments and spent time watching movies with my family. I decided to get my daughter’s clothes ready for the week and meal prep a stretch meal for the week and lunches for my husband. I was able to get in bed before my notification went off at 9:30 pm.

Monday, April 4 – I woke up at 7:15 am and started my day with a protein shake and a brisk walk with my dog for an hour. My day consisted of meetings and retaining much information. I was drained and tired, so I took a 30 min power nap for lunch. After waking up, I was able to answer emails and conclude the remainder of my meetings. I prepped dinner for the week and got my daughter ready for the week’s rest. I was able to get to bed before 9:30 pm.

Tuesday, April 5 – I tossed and turned all night. I woke up at midnight, then again at 2:38 am, and again to help my husband get my daughter ready for school at 3:15 am. After that, I could not go back to sleep, so I watched the Good Doctor. At 6:30 pm, I finally got out of bed to wash a load of clothes and take the dog for a walk. I came back and started dinner, and I felt myself dragging. I had some oatmeal and decided to take the day off and get some rest. I went to sleep finally around 4 pm.

Wednesday, April 6 – I woke up at 10:30 am, feeling well-rested. I did not do much today but lounge and sit in my courtyard with homework and affirmation books. My husband and I went out for an early dinner at our favourite restaurant, and after a glass of red wine and an enjoyable conversation, I was able to go to bed around 8:30 pm.

Thursday, April 7 – I woke up at 7:13 am. I went to the park to walk and play with my dog. While he sunbathed, I was able to read and book. I went for a deep tissue massage and returned home to a light salad and journaling. My daughter and I were able to catch up on some Disney movies, and we fell asleep before 9:30 pm.

Friday, April 8 – I woke up at 9 am and met with a friend for breakfast. She has been an advocate in my life in dealing with my anxiety, so every month, we take a day off from work, have breakfast, and take a yoga class. Afterwards, we went to the beach to talk and do breathing exercises, and I came home feeling much weight lifted off me. I came home and cleaned a little bit, and read my devotional. Once my husband and daughter came home, we put a puzzle together and fell asleep watching movies around 10 pm.

Saturday, April 9 – I woke up at 8 am, and my family and I went on a nature walk for an hour and played with my daughter at the park. I relaxed for the remainder of the day and went to bed at 8:45 pm.

Sunday, April 10 – Today, I woke up at 7 am, and my family and I went to Disneyland. It was a great outing; we all had a goal of who could estimate the most steps taken that day by the end of our trip. It was an enjoyable day, and although I was not successful in going to bed at my designated period, I went to bed before 11:30 pm.

Monday, April 11 – I woke up at 8 am feeling refreshed. I went to the gym, worked on the elliptical for 45 minutes, and rode the stationary bike for 30 minutes. I ended my workout in the sauna for 15 minutes and came home to shower and start schoolwork. The day was smooth, and I could get in bed before 9 pm.

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Matthew Legge

Personality Change

The surprising truth is that people change all the time, we likely underestimate how much people can change..

Updated May 28, 2024 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • A tendency to underestimate how much people change can lead to pessimism about addressing conflicts.
  • Research shows that personality changes are not only possible but more common than believed.
  • To change conflict patterns, we can think about changing situations, perspectives, or even labels we're using.

Source: cottonbro studio / Pexels

I’ve had the chance to talk to thousands of people about conflicts, and not one has ever said to me, “I'm the primary driver of the problem. Why am I so difficult?” Instead, they invariably ask how to change other people’s beliefs or bad behavior. And a lot of the time, they feel like they already know the answer: That other person will never change. They’re unreachable. They’re awful. They’re the problem .

What’s fascinating is that all sides can find ways to think this.

Picture this common scene: You meet up with a friend for coffee and soon they’re explaining to you in detail why their co-worker is so impossible to work with. In that moment have you ever wondered what that co-worker is telling their friends?

When you see the other side as “the problem,” that can preserve destructive conflict patterns. The conflict feels fated to continue, you imagine, because people don’t change.

Except they do. All the time.

Daniel Aires began dreaming of a career as a soldier when he was 10. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces at 16. One day, he was given a book about peace issues.

I remember reading the book and being absolutely enraged. How could anyone be so peaceful? How could they live their life where everyone is their brother and everyone is their sister?... I’m thinking, “This is complete lunacy!” And I took the book and I threw it in the bottom of the vehicle and drove around and it got all full of gunpowder and gasoline and I read it again, and again, and again and it wore a hole in my side pocket. I had it on me all the time. And within six months I was out of the military.

Somehow, what seemed impossible happened, and a single book changed Daniel’s life. But he had to go through a months-long invisible process first.

Most of us underestimate the likelihood of such changes. A major study found that the average person surveyed thinks their personality is far more constant than it actually is. “People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives.” But the study found that this just isn’t true. Most of us are closer to Daniel Aires—changing in many ways as we age.

Research into people trying to change their own personalities has found that, while difficult, it is possible. For instance two studies done with students found that many succeeded, at least over the course of four months. These students tested differently both on personality tests and on reports about their daily behaviors.

Systematic examination of the evidence on personality change highlights that there are many factors required. It’s not easy. But, then again, there are many factors required to not change.

Where we don’t change, it might be more because of repeated habits and being in the same situations over and over. Therefore, one important way to address a difficult conflict pattern is to change the situation. For instance, go for a walk together instead of staying seated .

Another way to change the situation is to think about it differently. Find common values , feelings, and needs. And try not to fix the person in your mind with all sorts of simple labels .

Researchers suggest that words that portray a situation as more fixed or straightforward than it really is come with serious costs. They reduce accuracy and understanding. They can lead to more entrenched and less rewarding conflicts.

An example is the label “toxic masculinity.” Such broad terms can make for frustrating conversations in part because people actually mean very different things by them. What’s worse, evidence shows that masculinity is actually changing—even amongst groups of men who traditionally felt strong pressures to be rugged and stoic individualists. So a term like “toxic masculinity” might harmfully oversimplify what’s happening, making it feel more stuck than it is.

essay about behavior change

There are no guarantees that a given conflict can be positively transformed. But it can be empowering to stop expecting that nothing will change. Lots of changes are happening. You have more power to impact them than you might think.

Richard Gater. Why ‘toxic masculinity’ isn’t a useful term for understanding all of the ways to be a man . The Conversation. October 11, 2023.

Matthew Legge

Matthew Legge is the author of Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division. He is a Peace Program Coordinator at Canadian Friends Service Committee.

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Habits — The Behaviors I Want to Change in My Life


A Habit I Would Like to Change: Insufficient Time Management

  • Categories: Change Habits

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Words: 531 |

Published: Aug 16, 2019

Words: 531 | Page: 1 | 3 min read

Things I would like to change about myself (essay)

Works cited.

  • Oaten, M., & Cheng, K. (2006). Improved self-control: The benefits of a regular program of academic study. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 28(1), 1-16. doi: 10.1207/s15324834basp2801_1
  • Sirois, F. M., & Pychyl, T. A. (2013). Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 115-127. doi: 10.1111/spc3.12011
  • Eisenberg, D. M., Kaptchuk, T. J., Post, D. E., Hrbek, A. L., O'Connor, B. B., Osypiuk, K., ... & Buring, J. E. (2010). Establishing an integrative medicine program within an academic health center: Essential considerations. Academic Medicine, 85(3), 338-343. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181ccc24a
  • Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 248-287. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(91)90022-L
  • Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 69-119. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2601(06)38002-1
  • Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1773-1801. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00428.x
  • Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01641.x
  • Tice, D. M., Baumeister, R. F., Shmueli, D., & Muraven, M. (2007). Restoring the self: Positive affect helps improve self-regulation following ego depletion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(3), 379-384. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2006.05.007
  • Hagger, M. S., Wood, C., Stiff, C., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. D. (2010). Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(4), 495-525. doi: 10.1037/a0019486

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essay about behavior change

Behavior Change: Cognitive Processes in Learning Essay

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Learning and cognition, reference list.

According to Kimble (1961), learning is taken as the process that brings in a relatively permanent alteration in behavior or potentiality in behavior as a result of reinforcement. For leaning to take place there must be a permanent change in the behavior. Therefore learning omits those behavior changes that are not permanent such as sleeping, eating and so on. In addition the term learning also do not consider the permanent changes that result due to maturation as learning process.

Whenever learning occurs, it is manifested as a change in behavior. The change though does not result immediately after learning, but occurs after some time span. Since learning cannot be studied directly, learning of behavior change is an important aspect because gives an inference to the process that preside behavior change and hence making the study of learning possible.

Except for B.F. Skinner who considers reinforcement and punishment as the most important aspects of learning behavior, majority of the learning theorist consider that learning compose of a superseding variable between experience and behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). This helps to differentiate performance and learning where performance exhibit the real learning as a behavior, although learning is regarded to take place before the exhibition of the learned behavior through performance.

Thus it should be taken to represent potential for future behavior. Thus in summary, learning can be taken to represent behavior in potential that signify a superseding variable between experience and behavior; that ultimately gets expressed through the tool of performance.

Conditioning is one process through which learning takes place. This type of learning was initially formulated by Pavlov and later augmented by Skinner. Conditioning can further be split into two groups.

These are classical conditioning and Instrumental conditioning. In the former conditioning, learning occurs when animals master how to associate neutral stimulus with natural stimulus they are familiar with. For instance classical conditioning results when a dog salivates when a man with a lab coat passes. This can happen only if the man that feeds the dog wears a lab coat every time he does it. Therefore the dog learns to associate the lab coat with food. Thus every time it sees a lab coat it associates it with food.

On the other hand, the latter conditioning is also known as operant conditioning and it occurs when a behavior that already exists is reinforced in order to increases its chances of reoccurrences (Olson & Hergenhahn 2009). Similarly it occurs when an animal masters to act in a certain manner in order to receive an intrinsically rewarding stimulus. This can be inferred by jumping of a trained dolphin from a pool of water so that to get a fish.

This results if the dolphin is given a fish every time it reaps. These forms of learning are very important in the day to day lives since Classical conditioning is used to differentiate between those objects that are essential for survival and those that are not, while on the other hand, operant conditioning is used for avoidance of unwanted objects.

Almost every theory of learning includes cognitive association into the general stimulus-response relationship advocated by operant and classical conditioning. The said cognitive association can occur between an occurrence of two stimuli (S-O), depiction of a stimulus and response (S-R) or finally a representation of a response and an outcome (R-O).

The most important factor in all these associations is that anticipation of the results acts as the mediator between learning and performance. Therefore the S-R association can result from preconditioning events (Kimble, 1961).

For instance introducing of a pairing related stimuli and do away with any reinforcement which will result into the expectation that future representation of one of the stimulus will lead to the occurrence of the other one. On the other hand, reducing the frequency of representation of a set of stimuli will reduce the future expectancy of the representation of the desired stimuli or response.

For example when a dog is conditioned that every time it sees a man with a lab coat it gets its food will salivate every moment it sees any man wearing a lab coat. Therefore there is a general expectancy that when the dog sees a man with a lab coat it will definitely salivate since it associates the lab coat with the stimulus it is familiar with food. If this procedure is altered and the dog does not get its food every time it sees a man with a lab coat, its expectation that it will salivate every time it sees a man with a lab coat decreases.

Behavior change can be regarded as the ultimate result of learning that is represented through the instrument of performance. Classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning are considered as the two forms of learning through which other form of learning can be linked to. It is from this learning paradigm that forms the basis of cognitive association which tries to explain the expectancy of future happenings as a mediating variable that helps to build a framework to enable comprehend cognitive processes so that to assist in.

Kimble, G. (1961). Hilgard, Ernest R. and Marquis, Donald G. Hilgard and Marquis’ Conditioning and learning. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Olson, Mathew., & Hergenhahn, B. (2009). An Introduction to Theories of Learning. (Eighth Edition). New York: Prentice Hall.

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Donald Trump found guilty in historic New York hush money case

A New York jury on Thursday found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — the first time a former U.S. president has been convicted of a crime.

The jury reached its verdict in the historic case after 9½ hours of deliberations, which began Wednesday. 

He'll be sentenced on July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention. He faces penalties from a fine to four years in prison on each count, although it's expected he would be sentenced for the offenses concurrently, not consecutively.

Follow live updates here.

"This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt,” Trump fumed to reporters afterward.

The verdict was read in the Manhattan courtroom where Trump has been on trial since April 15. He had pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a hush money payment his former lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump looked down with his eyes narrowed as the jury foreperson read the word "guilty" to each count.

The judge thanked the jurors for their service in the weekslong trial. “You gave this matter the attention it deserved, and I want to thank you for that,” Judge Juan Merchan told them. Trump appeared to be scowling at the jurors as they walked by him on their way out of the courtroom.

Trump's attorney Todd Blanche made a motion for acquittal after the jury left the room, which the judge denied.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg would not comment on what type of sentence he might seek, saying his office would do its talking in court papers.

"While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes to the courtroom doors — by following the facts and the law in doing so, without fear or favor," Bragg said. Asked for his reaction to the verdict, Bragg, who was inundated with threats from Trump supporters during the probe, said, "I did my job. We did our job."

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, immediately set out fundraising off the news, posting on his website that he's "a political prisoner" and urging his followers to give money.

Legal experts have told NBC News that even if Trump is sentenced to time behind bars, he'd most likely be allowed to remain out of jail while he appeals the verdict, a process that could take months or more. That means the sentence would most likely not interfere with his ability to accept the Republican nomination for president at the July convention.

And it likely wouldn't impact his ability to be elected. "There are no other qualifications other than those in the Constitution,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and NBC News & MSNBC Legal Analyst said following Thursday’s verdict.

President Joe Biden's campaign praised the verdict in a statement but stressed that Trump needs to be defeated in November.

“In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law," said the campaign's communications director, Michael Tyler, but the "verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box."

In his closing argument this week, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the jury that “the law is the law, and it applies to everyone equally. There is no special standard for this defendant.”

“You, the jury, have the ability to hold the defendant accountable,” Steinglass said.

Trump had maintained that the DA’s office had no case and that there had been no crime. “President Trump is innocent. He did not commit any crimes,” Blanche said in his closing statement, arguing the payments to Cohen were legitimate.

Prosecutors said the disguised payment to Cohen was part of a “planned, coordinated long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures, to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way.”

“It was election fraud. Pure and simple,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said in his opening statement.

While Trump wasn’t charged with conspiracy, prosecutors argued he caused the records to be falsified because he was trying to cover up a violation of state election law — and falsifying business records with the intent to cover another crime raises the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Trump was convicted after a sensational weekslong trial that included combative testimony from Cohen, Trump’s self-described former fixer, and Daniels, who testified that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 after she met him at a celebrity golf tournament. Trump has denied her claim, and his attorney had suggested that Cohen acted on his own because he thought it would make “the boss” happy.

Other witnesses included former White House staffers, among them adviser Hope Hicks, former Trump Organization executives and former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.  

Trump didn’t take the witness stand to offer his own account of what happened, even though he proclaimed before the trial began that he would “absolutely” testify. The defense’s main witness was Robert Costello, a lawyer whom Cohen considered retaining in 2018. Costello, who testified that Cohen had told him Trump had nothing to do with the Daniels’ payment, enraged Merchan by making disrespectful comments and faces on the stand. At one point, the judge cleared the courtroom during Costello’s testimony and threatened to hold him in contempt. 

Cohen testified that he lied to Costello because he didn’t trust him and that he’d lied to others about Trump’s involvement at the time because he wanted to protect his former boss.

Cohen was the lone witness to testify to Trump’s direct involvement in the $130,000 payment and the subsequent reimbursement plan. Blanche spent days challenging his credibility, getting Cohen to acknowledge he has a history of lying, including under oath.

Cohen said he was paid the Daniels cash in a series of payments from Trump throughout 2017 that the Trump Organization characterized as payments pursuant to a retainer agreement “for legal services rendered.”

Prosecutors said there was no such agreement, and Cohen’s version of events was supported by documentary evidence and witness testimony. 

Blanche contended that the series of checks then-President Trump paid Cohen in 2017 “was not a payback to Mr. Cohen for the money that he gave to Ms. Daniels” and that he was being paid for his legal work as Trump’s personal lawyer.

Testimony from Jeff McConney, a former senior vice president at Trump’s company, challenged that position. McConney said the company’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, told him that Cohen was being reimbursed for a $130,000 payment, and prosecutors entered Weisselberg’s handwritten notes about the payment formula as evidence. Cohen said Trump agreed to the arrangement in a meeting with him and Weisselberg just days before he was inaugurated as the 45th president.

Weisselberg didn't testify. He’s in jail on a perjury charge related to his testimony in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against Trump and his company. Cohen, McConney and other witnesses said Weisselberg, who spent decades working for Trump, always sought his approval for large expenditures. 

In all, the prosecution called 20 witnesses, while the defense called two.

Trump had frequently claimed, falsely, that the charges against him were a political concoction orchestrated by Biden to keep him off the campaign trail. But Trump eventually managed to bring the campaign to the courtroom, hosting top Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Sens. JD Vance of Ohio and Rick Scott of Florida, as his guests in court. Trump also used court breaks to tout political messages to his supporters, while his surrogates sidestepped Merchan’s gag order by attacking witnesses, individual prosecutors and Merchan’s daughter.

Merchan fined Trump $10,000 during the trial for violating his order, including attacks on Cohen and Daniels, and warned he could have him locked up if he continued violating the order.

Cohen celebrated the verdict in a post on X. "Today is an important day for accountability and the rule of law. While it has been a difficult journey for me and my family, the truth always matters," Cohen wrote.

Trump was indicted in March of last year after a yearslong investigation by Bragg and his predecessor, Cyrus Vance. The charges were the first ever brought against a former president, although Trump has since been charged and pleaded not guilty in three other cases. None of the three — a federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., a state election interference case in Georgia and a federal case alleging he mishandled classified documents and national security information — appear likely to go to trial before the Nov. 5 presidential election.

essay about behavior change

Adam Reiss is a reporter and producer for NBC and MSNBC.

essay about behavior change

Gary Grumbach produces and reports for NBC News, based in Washington, D.C.

essay about behavior change

Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.

essay about behavior change

Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

essay about behavior change

Jillian Frankel is a 2024 NBC News campaign embed.


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