How to Create Lasting Behavior Changes

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | January 19, 2024 

Much has been written about creating lasting behavior changes. So, what doesn’t change behavior? Quite a few things. While some things seem to work short-term, they do not result in lasting differences. What interventions do not work to change behaviors? Is behavior change really what people should be after? Read on to learn more.

Shame. Long-term, shame does not promote behavior change. It might motivate short-term change due to fear (Gobbel, 2020). It can also cause a person to hide behaviors or withdraw (Batcho, 2017). Long term, though, shame decreases self-esteem and self-efficacy, the very drivers of change. It can also increase behaviors like defense and aggression, which are generally not considered healthy (Yuko, 2020). Shame just is not good for motivating change that sticks.
Punishment. Some people confuse consequences with punishment. Consequences are the results of actions (Levy, 2018). These exist naturally or are given to match actions. Punishment shames a person, or tries to make the person otherwise feel bad about a behavior (Earles, 2022). Generally, punishment only creates short term behavior change (Cherry, 2021). It can also have potential long-term consequences such as acting out of punishments on others. Punishment is often done in anger, which is also not beneficial to society (Karson, 2014). True change needs other motivations.
Over-Reliance on External Motivation. External motivation can be used to promote short-term change. It can help modify behaviors in the short-term, but if not partnered with intrinsic motivators, it does not often result in lasting, long-term change (Rstdev, 2015). As with shame, overuse of external motivation can also decrease self-efficacy and self-esteem (Ablon, 2018). Self-efficacy and self-esteem are some of the primary drivers of intrinsic change, and not things beneficial to suppress.

So how is change created? Change is created through connection, coregulation, skill-building, and more (Gobbel, 2020). Knowing what not to do leaves room for these more important, more beneficial practices. Ultimately, change is more about relationship than anything else. Relationships have the potential to change not only an individual, but the people in the relationship with that individual.

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Much has been written about how to change behavior. So, what doesn’t change behavior? Quite a few things. While some things seem to work short-term, they do not result in lasting differences. What interventions do not work to change behaviors? Is behavior change really what people should be after? Read on to learn more.

Shame. Long-term, shame does not promote behavior change. It might motivate short-term change due to fear (Gobbel, 2020). It can also cause a person to hide behaviors or withdraw (Batcho, 2017). Long term, though, shame decreases self-esteem and self-efficacy, the very drivers of change. It can also increase behaviors like defense and aggression, which are generally not considered healthy (Yuko, 2020). Shame just is not good for motivating change that sticks.
Punishment. Some people confuse consequences with punishment. Consequences are the results of actions (Levy, 2018). These exist naturally or are given to match actions. Punishment shames a person, or tries to make the person otherwise feel bad about a behavior (Earles, 2022). Generally, punishment only creates short term behavior change (Cherry, 2021). It can also have potential long-term consequences such as acting out of punishments on others. Punishment is often done in anger, which is also not beneficial to society (Karson, 2014). True change needs other motivations.
Over-Reliance on External Motivation. External motivation can be used to promote short-term change. It can help modify behaviors in the short-term, but if not partnered with intrinsic motivators, it does not often result in lasting, long-term change (Rstdev, 2015). As with shame, overuse of external motivation can also decrease self-efficacy and self-esteem (Ablon, 2018). Self-efficacy and self-esteem are some of the primary drivers of intrinsic change, and not things beneficial to suppress.

So how is change created? Change is created through connection, coregulation, skill-building, and more (Gobbel, 2020). Knowing what not to do leaves room for these more important, more beneficial practices. Ultimately, change is more about relationship than anything else. Relationships have the potential to change not only an individual, but the people in the relationship with that individual.

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References

Ablon, J.S. (2018, June 19). If you give a dog name…The dirty little secret of motivational procedures. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changeable/201806/if-you-give-dog-name

Batcho, K.I. (2017, May 31). Why shaming doesn’t work. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/longing-nostalgia/201705/why-shaming-doesnt-work

Cherry, K. (2021, April 7). Punishment in psychology. VeryWell mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-punishment-2795413

Earles, S. (2022, January 17). Consequences in the context of foster care and adoption. Arizona Family Counseling. https://arizonafamilycounseling.com/consequences-in-the-context-of-foster-care-and-adoption/

Gobbel, R. (Host). (2020, October 29). Self-compassion will change your brain (no. 8). [Audio podcast episode]. In The baffling behaviors show. https://robyngobbel.com/selfcompassion/

Karson, M. (2014, January 14). Punishment doesn’t work. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-our-way/201401/punishment-doesnt-work

Rstdev. (2015, September 20). How to challenge the science of motivation and the psychology of reliable manufacturing. Reliability solutions. https://reliabilitysolutions.net/articles/how-to-change-culture-the-science-of-motivation-and-the-psychology-of-reliable-manufacturing/

Yuko, E. (2020, December 14). Does shaming work? Life Hacker. https://lifehacker.com/does-shaming-work-1845851848

References

Ablon, J.S. (2018, June 19). If you give a dog name…The dirty little secret of motivational procedures. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/ blog/changeable/201806/if-you-give-dog-name

Batcho, K.I. (2017, May 31). Why shaming doesn’t work. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ longing-nostalgia/201705/why-shaming-doesnt-work

Cherry, K. (2021, April 7). Punishment in psychology. VeryWell mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-punishment-2795413

Earles, S. (2022, January 17). Consequences in the context of foster care and adoption. Arizona Family Counseling. https://arizonafamilycounseling.com/ consequences-in-the-context-of-foster-care-and-adoption/

Gobbel, R. (Host). (2020, October 29). Self-compassion will change your brain (no. 8). [Audio podcast episode]. In The baffling behaviors show. https://robyngobbel.com/selfcompassion/

Karson, M. (2014, January 14). Punishment doesn’t work. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/ blog/feeling-our-way/201401/punishment-doesnt-work

Rstdev.(2015, September 20). How to challenge the science of motivation and the psychology of reliable manufacturing. Reliability solutions. https://reliabilitysolutions.net/articles/ how-to-change-culture-the-science-of-motivation-and-the-psychology-of-reliable-manufacturing/

Yuko, E. (2020, December 14). Does shaming work? Life Hacker. https://lifehacker.com/does-shaming-work-1845851848