93 ways to change a behaviour.

Jussi Tolvi from Club Soda blogs on all the techniques we can use to change our behaviour.


As we know, changing our behaviours can be difficult. Whether quitting a bad old habit like smoking, or trying to start a healthy new one like exercising, many attempts fall at the first hurdle. This fact is so well known that businesses profit from it: just think of a gym selling annual memberships in January, knowing full well that most New Year’s resolutions are forgotten before February.

However, to help us change our behaviour, a whole range of ‘behaviour change’ tools and techniques have been identified. In fact, there are so many tools that it can be hard to decide which would be the most useful in supporting the changes we’d like to see.

Changing your relationship with alcohol or other substances is a key behaviour change goal.

Professor Michie from University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change has defined a behaviour change technique as an “observable, replicable, and irreducible component of an intervention designed to alter or redirect causal processes that regulate behaviour”. In plainer English, a behaviour change technique (BCT) is any clear activity aimed at changing human behaviour. BCTs can be used on their own, or in combination with other techniques.

Professor Michie’s team have completed a major project to categorise all the behaviour change techniques they could find. Their project identified 93 techniques, across 16 categories.

For example, their first two categories cover the fundamental and commonly-used techniques of setting goals, planning ahead, feeding back, and monitoring progress.

Another category looks at the role of social support (e.g. emotional support) in helping behaviour change. Other categories consider the role of substitution (the old cliché that people who give up one thing – like drinking – start something else – like running!). Some BCTs focus on reward, on repeating the desired behaviour, or understanding patterns of association with the ‘bad’ habit and the desired change. Self-belief is another crucial category of BCT, demonstrating its importance.

One conclusion is that there is an enormous variety of tools and techniques we can use to change our behaviour – from the very simple to the very complex. Professor Michie’s project doesn’t just list the techniques though. As all of these BCTs can be used in combination, the project also supports the development, use and evaluation of the BCTs we have in our toolbox.

Changing your relationship with alcohol or other substances is a key behaviour change goal. Club Soda is a blended digital and real-world service and community that supports people to change their drinking. At Club Soda, we frequently use the BCT list of behaviour change techniques in developing our services – from our website design to our online tools and programmes. It’s also helpful in coming up with brand new ideas and initiatives. One good example of this is the new DrinkLess mobile app, also developed at University College London.

This work on BCTs is also relevant to the partnership between Blenheim and Club Soda, who have clubbed together on a new pubs and bars project. Based on earlier Club Soda research, we have identified the BCTs that could potentially be used to “nudge” the behaviour of venues (or more accurately their owners and managers) to be more welcoming to all of their customers, in particular those who want to drink less alcohol or none at all. We will be trying out a range of techniques to see which ones work best in improving pubs and bars’ offer to those non-drinking customers!

References:

Susan Michie, Michelle Richardson, Marie Johnston, Charles Abraham, Jill Francis, Wendy Hardeman, Martin P. Eccles, James Cane, Caroline E. Wood: The Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy (v1) of 93 Hierarchically Clustered Techniques: Building an International Consensus for the Reporting of Behavior Change Interventions. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, August 2013, Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 81-95


Club Soda is a digital service and peer community that supports people to change their drinking – whether they want to cut down, stop for a bit, quit, or stick.

Blenheim is a charity that supports people affected by drug and alcohol use. A number of our services use behaviour change techniques to support our clients. We also run training workshops for professionals, with courses such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and ITEP, a mapping technique to help people explore how their thoughts and feelings impact behaviours, and how they can communicate more effectively and see the bigger picture.

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