“To change any behavior we have to slow down and act intentionally rather than from habit and impulse.” Dr. Henna Inma

How we are biologically wired

Humans are neurobiologically wired to seek out safety, convenience, and familiarity in our day to day choices.  The repetition of these choices create our behavioral patterns. 

Behaviors serve two purposes; first, to get something. Second, to avoid something.

Our behaviors cannot change until we become consciously aware of what environment and/or triggers are creating them.

The ABCs of Behavior

Information from our environment is first processed in the brain in our limbic system. This is also known as the emotional brain.  It responds quickly and rapidly with a feeling.  As that feeling is processed, we then demonstrate a behavior.  All of our behaviors have consequences, which is what happens after the behavior takes place.

The cyclical process of human behaviors has been defined by the acronym, the ABCs of Behavior.

The A, stands for antecedent.  All behaviors have an antecedent.  These are the triggers/feelings and environments that cause us to act a certain way.

The B, stands for Behavior. A behavior is an action that is both observable and measurable. For example, a client explains that when they get nervous or stressed about something at work, they smoke a cigarette. They continue to describe, that lately they have been out of breath and low on energy.

Smoking a cigarette is the observable behavior.  How often they perform that behavior is the measurable component. And the trigger or environment that causes the client to smoke is nervousness or feeling stressed.

The C, stands for Consequence.  The consequence of that client repetitively smoking has become shortness of breath and low energy.  Ultimately affecting their everyday performance, energy, and ability to do activities of life without feeling out of breath.

If a consequence for a behavior is pleasurable it will reinforce that behavior.  If a consequence for a behavior is seen or felt as punishment it can decrease the behavior.  If consequences take time to be felt or experienced, the person may not associate the behavior with the consequence.

A delayed example of a consequence, might be weight gain from consuming unhealthy food. The client cannot associate the behavior of eating unhealthy good-tasting food with an immediate consequence. Instead the pleasure they receive from eating unhealthy good-tasting food is only reinforcing that behavior. The delayed consequence of that behavior is weight gain.

As movement professionals, recognizing and understanding the process that creates behaviors is key to our ability to help our clients evoke lasting change and successfully guide them to their goals.

What Motivates us to change?

Our client’s goals can vary. Upon client intake, it’s important to be able to have a way to communicate, and a process to guide them through, to help the client establish what they want to achieve, while discovering their own limiting behaviors.

Motivational interviewing techniques is a client-centered approach to gathering information, that when implemented, gives the client the permission to define the nature of the relationship. (Sugarman, 2012) When the client feels they are in control, they are more willing to share vulnerable information about themselves. This vulnerability establishes a key connection between the client and professional, and authentically allows the professional to guide the client’s success in ways that are relevant to their life.

The safety and security felt in this relationship will allow the client to open up and begin to ask themselves the tough questions regarding the ABCs of their behaviors.

Human Motivational Needs

Lasting behavioral change can take place when we are instrinsically motivated.

Behavioral psychologists, Dr. Edward Ryan and Dr. Richard Deci, teach us through Self-Determination Theory, that human’s have three needs that need to be satisfied in order to be intrinsically motivated.

Those needs are Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence.

When we implement autonomy into our client’s sessions, we are giving them choice and options that allow them to feel as though they are part of the process.  This choice, helps them to experience ownership over their own participation in a program that was written for them.  This ownership, intrinsically motivates them to pursue new ways to behave, or ways in which they can demonstrate effort towards their own goals.

When the programming choices show relatedness the client is further intrinsically motivated.  By explaining how certain exercises, modalities, and even the acute variables (number of sets, reps) align to their goals; the client is given a sense of purpose that they can relate to the reason why they would put in any effort at all.  The consequence of their effort is then seen when they reach the desired goal they set.

And finally, when we create opportunities of competence we successfully reinforce future behavior. People are driven to do the things they feel competent at.  If they don’t feel successful, or that they will ‘never be able to do something’, then they most likely will avoid it.  Remember, when negative consequences show up as a result of a behavior, we will avoid it, especially if it is directly after the behavior.

Implementing these into a Coaching Process with Communication

Behavioral change requires us to slow down and act consciously rather than from impulse.  To create lasting change in our clients we must understand the process of human behavior, what drives us to want to change, and how we can establish intrinsic motivation for lasting change.

To learn about how to create lasting behavioral change in your clients join us in our webinar:  Coaching Mindset & Communication: Key Ingredients of Behavioral Change

Join us in this MedFit Classroom Webinar:
Tuesday November 3rd at 12pm CST/1pm EST


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.

Inam, Henna. (2015) Wired for Authenticity: Seven Practices to Inspire Adapt and Lead. Henna Inam Publishing

Sugarman, Dr. Roy. (2012) Engaging and Retaining Clients in Healthy Behavioral Change. Level 7 Psychology

Section I: Basic Behavior Components. Article (2013) retrieved from: http://www.projectidealonline.org/v/basic-behavior-components/

Theory Overview, Center for Self-Determination Theory. Article (2020) retrieved from: https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.