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Modifying Behavior in 8 weeks (Part 1: Knowing Change)


Music generally comes in 8. A four-four pattern in a bar (not a drinking one) that leads your drumbeats, aerobic classes, or prelude before dancing where the instructor goes “5, 6, 7-and-8!”.

We’re advised to sleep 8 hours, drink 8 glasses of water a day.

Abs comes in an 8-pack.

While playing chess, you own 8 pieces plus 8 pawns playing on an 8×8 board. The average number of moves in chess is forty (8×5).

Now if we’re not careful, we might start seeing 8s everywhere. It could even give pi a good run for its money for “special” status. (Not that it wants to, the 8 I imagine to know is of fine taste and humble in nature; it knows its worth)

Now 8 is also a hard worker because behavior takes approximately 8 weeks to change; one to observe, six to labor, and one to monitor. That sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Not.

Getting to Know Change

A good bit of information about change before you start: it comes in stages. Nice chaps (if you’re American)/blokes (for the Brits)/locally in Malaysia we say “nehhh” and point with our chins or eyebrows (a far more superior way of communicating I feel) called James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed something laymen call “Stages of Change” (uninspiring, I know) but researchers or professionals call TTM (don’t bother, those who know just want to show off) that segregates the process of change this way:

Shamelessly downloaded from Boston University School of Public Health


The state of knowing it all before you know it all. The blissful state of feeling as if your input from the world is complete, and all other information is obsolete. Moment of reflection: Does that mean I (the writer) am also in a stage of precontemplation because I contemplate that I am fully aware of the stages of change? Hmmm, Plato, nice try…


Stage of most resistance. It means that a well-meaning but sarcastic person in your life has just up-slammed your contentment with life starting with, “You know what? You’re X!” (ie. Worst case scenario: “just like your mother!”) Most people just stay here forever, debating with said person (in their minds, of course) about just how they are not like that. The smarter ones actually debate with a professional therapist.


You lost the debate. Begrudgingly like the sore loser each one of us secretly are, you raise the white flag and listen to options available. Alright I admit; I’m making it sound bad. It’s actually much worse. You realize that there was a whole new world you neglected and turn to face it. Fear and anxiety are your new friends while you get your ducks in a row.


Planning. Trial and error. Re-planning. Implementation that gets better with every try. TRY being the key word. Somehow along the way, you realize that you just might be able to make it.


You know the old but irritating saying, “One step forward, two steps back”? Sometimes change is like that. It gives you momentary hope before you slip and crash. I consider the relapse-maintenance a joint stage because you’re always in between; if you’ve maintained your changed behavior for the past 20 years you’ve been in the maintenance stage for 20 years and relapse is still an option.

The prelude is usually the thought of “I’m okay with it now” but the process is much more complicated involving triggers and responses; and everyone you know is susceptible to that. Yes, even the perfect-looking-Instagram-worthy-zit-repudiating-net-worth-of-a-zillion friend you’re always subconsciously comparing yourself to. Crashing could mean two things: You’re aware that you slipped and ready to atone for it (keeping you firmly within relapse-maintenance), or you’re aware that you slipped but you just don’t care (reverting to pre-contemplation). Your response is crucial; the relapse is not. Read that twice.

8, Again

8 is reminding me gently (such flawless manners! Let me hook up my children with 8) that we have not addressed its role. Welllllll, I need to prepare them for you, no? 8 nods, in a manner that indicates good upbringing.

There is a list of items you will need to prepare before we move into the 8-week period. What DO you want to change? Or, more likely, what do you want someone else in your life to change that you’re reading this article in hopes that you can help them change? (Co-dependency will be discussed someday)

Addiction. OCD. Stagnation. Poor habits including the disinclination towards taking showers. (For the first two examples given, please enlist a professional)

Tip: most of us know precisely what we don’t want; rarely do we ever list down what we want. To modify behavior, you need to write down in no unspecific terms the behavior that you are expecting (e.g. instead of “stop not showering”, have it as “shower once a day at 7PM”).

After which, why is changing important? Other than listing how it is beneficial for yourself, list down the improvement to life for your loved ones too. The why is as important as the how because it keeps you motivated. (e.g. “wife will stop leaving the room pinching her nose when I enter”, “I will be able to hug my children without them sobbing about the smell”)

Lastly, refine and improve your wanted behavior and its rationale. Can it be more precise? Are there other motivations for you to change? Should you interview close friends to get their opinions? That was a dud. Of course you should. I know you’re ready to up your horse and get on with it (so am I!), but think of it as cheesecake: you can bake it or freeze it, but we still need to beat the cream cheese as filling. We’re beating now, bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump.

By then, mon amour, you will be ready for 8.

*TTM-Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, by Prochaska & DiClemente; Plato-refer to Allegory of the cave; OCD-Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.