How People Change Behavior


I use this diagram to explain how people change behavior. I usually include it in my handouts, but I don't talk about it in class unless one of the students expresses discomfort with the process of change. In these cases, I explain the process of growth and that even these uncomfortable stages are signs that they are moving in the right direction.

I first saw this model in a class on relationships a couple decades ago, and I found it informative. For more information, it is described in wikipedia. |Click here for article in wikipedia.




  • I draw the graph on the board.
  • I explain the process as follows:
    1. We all start in the unconscious incompetence box. This means we have a behavior that doesn't work well for us, and we are not aware that it is holding us back.
    2. With awareness we come to understand that there is a need to change behavior. This takes us to the conscious incompetence stage.
    3. When we find a better behavior, with effort and constant vigilance, we can use the new behavior only when we make a concerted effort to do so. This is the conscious competence stage.
    4. With practice, the new behavior becomes automatic and we move into the unconscious competence phase, where the new behavior is automatic.
  • I then talk about how each phase feels, and how the process is often uncomfortable, but is a normal part of the learning process.
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