Behavior Change

by Jeremy Brooks

Behavior change and motivation to change are interesting to me.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to maximize the likelihood that someone “gets it” (hope) while they are in treatment or detox and starts to take action.  When all of the stars line up it is a beautiful and rewarding thing to witness and be part of. We can help set the stage, but that there is so much that we cant see, predict or control.

This paper by Ken Resnicow and Roger Vaughan looks at behavior change through the lens of Chaos Theory. It nicely articulates many of the observations I have had over time and makes a lot of sense to me. It is full of gems, but I especially like this quote which focuses on what our role may be in helping our clients. It provides hope that even the most seemingly “tough” cases can get it. Our role may be to just do what we can to ensure that the ping pong balls keep spinning.

“In the complex system approach, the role of health communications may be analogous to the spinning of ping pong balls in a lottery machine. Say that each ping pong ball represents a chunk of knowledge, attitude, efficacy, or intention. On each ball lies a few strips of Velcro; the soft side. Inside the human psyche lies strips of the opposite, hard side of Velcro, which serve as potential motivational “receptors”. Some of the motivational ping pong balls may have resided in the system for years while others may have been more recently implanted through a health education program, clinical counseling encounter, or health communication campaign. Rather than attempting to predict which piece or pieces of motivation may “tip” the individual, from the chaotic perspective, the role of the health professional is to ensure the balls are kept spinning at various intervals and velocities to maximize the chances that they adhere to their receptors. When sufficient balls have adhered a tipping point may occur. Which balls or combination of balls may trip the motivational switch as well as when and why they may stick, are chaotic events that defy accurate prediction. From a non-linear perspective, the goal of health professionals may be to encourage wing flapping.”