A Simple Behavior Change Strategy


By Diane Gold

Behavior ChangeA new behavior change strategy is always a good thing to have in one’s basket of tricks. Making one, immediate, small change in our habitual behavior is the key to making it happen.

We all have habits. They develop when we do something over and over again driven by some type of urge: whether it came from our own psycho-physical ¬with no external stimulus or if something outside us, from a smell, a taste, a sound, a touch, triggered an urge. We get good at repeating the same behavior over and over again, and then it becomes second nature.

Now, it’s a habit.


So, we might be minding our own business, and all of a sudden, we will want to drink alcohol, go dancing, eat ice cream or go running. We get the urge to do these behaviors from ourselves. Some of them may be good. Others, not good for our mental or physical health.


There is the external urge that arrives when a sense triggers the urge. The urge involves the same behaviors but in a slightly different way. We might be in a restaurant, smell the alcohol in someone else’s glass and want to drink. We might hear music and want to go dance. We might view someone’s eating an ice cream cone and immediately want one.


This external stimulus idea works in a different way, too. We can cause our senses to become activate by positioning objects, like running shoes or dental floss, so that the viewing of the objects, themselves, creates a trigger.

As B.J. Fogg, PH.D., puts it,

“The number one mistake people make is not going tiny enough,”

referring to doing a small behavior as the entire goal, not a big, complicated one. He adds,

Running Shoes


“Just put your running shoes on,”



meaning the goal is to put on the shoes, not to go running.

He’s referring to people’s thinking about cultivating the habit of running which involves putting on running shoes, figuring out the technique by which to run and going out and doing the running. That’s very complicated compared to starting with the tiny step of just putting the running shoes on for 5 days. Just placing the shoes on develops a habit that is not multifaceted. An effective way to trigger this behavior is to place the running shoes exactly on the path where we will step on them when we get out of bed. This way, we will see the shoes and remember to put them on.

In the same way, Fogg suggests that people who want to create the habit of flossing their teeth should begin by flossing 1 tooth only. We can do one tooth whereas we might be too lazy to do our whole mouth. This may lead to flossing 2 teeth, but the goal is 1 tooth first.


When I was actively replacing my habit of drinking alcohol, I actively chose to spend my time doing things in places that did not serve alcohol or with people who were not drinking it. It was specifically to avoid smelling the alcohol or seeing people’s drinking it.

I remember very long ago when I was much younger, when I chose to quit smoking cigarettes. My strategy was similar in that I chose not to be around the smell of smoke so as not to trigger my desire for it.

Part of the process of developing behaviors that replaced drinking alcohol was to develop a behavior of being able to be around it.

Part of the process of developing behaviors to replace smoking cigarettes was to develop the ability to smell the cigarette smoke without having to smoke. Typical of someone who is extreme, I raised my children to avoid people who were smoking cigarettes. We crossed to the other side of the street to avoid it. I still do it to avoid its smell on my clothes. Very strangely, although I think smoking is gross and slovenly and I don’t like being around it, I can still recall the chemical buzz I received from the actual smoking.


So, how much time do we have from the time an urge kicks in from inside us? And what about urges caused by outside stimuli?

The answer is It Depends Upon The Strength Of The Urge. If we have chosen to replace our behavior of drinking alcohol, doing drugs or going gambling, all behaviors that we have decided do not support our lives, we have, as I see it, between 5 and 15 seconds to do a new behavior before we do our old behavior and drink, drug or gamble.

If every time we pass the same restaurant that has alcohol, we also have 5 to 15 seconds to veer away from the restaurant to avoid going in and drinking. If every time we pass the aromatherapy store, we go in and have a whiff; we still have between 5 and 15 seconds to change this behavior. However, that particular habit seems to be one that calms the mind and heart and sounds like a good habit and may want to be continued.


Here is a simple action step that can be taken as soon as an urge is felt. It does require that we carry our tools with us. But that’s easy.

Taking the step, that is, doing the new behavior, will change what we smell which may dissipate the urge. It will change what we taste, which supports the change in smell. We also have to focus our eyes on the behavior so that we can execute it properly. We will hear what we are doing which will complement the taste, smell and sight. And, finally, we will be touching the tools for the strategy. That’s using all 5 senses.

Toothbrush And ToothpasteSo, what is this simple strategy? It requires 2 things and a little water would be nice. They are a toothbrush and toothpaste, which we can be carried portably. Brushing the teeth when an urge strikes will change our smell, taste, view, sound and touch.

When we taste a new taste, very often, we replace our previous desire for food or drink. When we get busy doing this behavior, we will be focused on it for a moment and may distract ourselves long enough to call a friend, drink water or stretch our bodies. These additional behaviors support our brushing our teeth to replace our old behavior.

Please let us know how this behavior change strategy works. It has worked for me and for many others. Of course, we need a support network and this strategy. But this is an instant action step that may be of use in many circumstances.

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Diane Gold, Founder of Warriors of Weight, Turning Habits Into Health, is a mentor in tai chi, kung fu and meditation, a music, fitness and stress expert, dedicated mom, studying plant-based nutrition, peaceful conflict resolution and habit replacement.

She loves to talk about habits. She says,

“The way to achieve greatness is by taking 1 step. That way, that one step can be majestic. If we take 2 or more steps, our attention is split. That’s why 1 step is the way.

“When we choose behavior change, it may not work, at first. This is because it takes time to develop the new behavior. It took time for our old behavior to become second-nature. We are developing this in the new behavior.

“There is always room for one more strategy. Let’s see whether this one is the best one yet.

“Finally, let us all take good care of ourselves because we are so worth it!”

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