Why is it so hard to change?
Research shows that it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, or change a behavior. This change occurs with consistent practice over those two months. Why then is it that most people give up after only a few days or weeks? Is it because we don’t see immediate change, get tired or bored with what we are working on? Is it because we don’t really want to change, or the expectations are just too high? Is it the environment or other people involved that cause us to derail so quickly? Or are we scared that the change might actually work, and we will be left with a new/different behavior?
I ask these questions because at times I see people try a new strategy or technique for a few days; and when they don’t see immediate change, they just give up rather than staying the course and waiting for the change to occur. At other times, I see inconsistent follow through with the changes being implemented, which doesn’t allow for the new behavior to fully develop. Finally, there are instances where change is beginning to occur, but is not given the time it needs to really flourish and become permanent.
All three of these scenarios can be truly frustrating, but I want to address the third scenario in this article. I am currently working with a family whose son is having behavior difficulties at school. The school recently began consistently working on one of his behaviors, using an incentive chart that potentially earns him some free time each hour. Since implementing this consistent plan three weeks ago, his behavior has reduced from 20+ incidents a day to 4-5 incidents a day. This is a significant decrease, and the plan seems to be having an impact on his behavior. I believe that if they continue to implement this plan consistently, the behavior will be reduced to 1 or fewer instances per day over the course of the next few months. Unfortunately, the school feels that he is too disruptive to his class mates, and wants to scrap this plan and move him to an alternative placement.
This greatly frustrates me, because their data shows that using a consistent plan is making an impact – and yet they want to give up. I think it will be important to hold a meeting, take a look at all the information, and devise a plan that will be beneficial and workable for all involved. I will advise sticking with the current behavior chart system for at least another few weeks to determine whether the behavior continues to improve over time and then maintains. I think too often we get in the mode of, “Oh, I tried that and it didn’t work”; but my question is, “Did you really try it or did you just do it for a few days or week and then give up?”
In this instance and many others, I think the child deserves better than “We tried it for a few weeks, and even though it is working we are going to change his current school placement.” Obviously he is making an effort to change. I think that if we take a step back, we might even find that there is more that can be done to help support this change; but that will take willingness on the part of the adults involved – and let’s face it, sometimes we adults are the hardest ones to change!
I am hopeful that this little boy gets the opportunity to work the current plan, and show that with consistency and practice he can improve his behavior. I am also hopeful that he can be an example for how sticking with a consistent plan for a significant amount of time can and does make a difference.