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Intentional, incremental change

By Jenna Noonan & Joanne Mainsbridge

We are nearing the end of January. How many have stuck to the new year’s resolution of being more organised, eating healthy, exercising more, meditating every day, or having no alcohol or coffee? How many have written lists of all the changes in behaviour they are going to do but are yet to maintain this for a week?

Rather than setting resolutions, we are suggesting you take a moment and reflect on your core values that drive your lifestyle and decision-making every day. Identifying your values will allow you to highlight what is important to you and make meaningful changes in your life that are easy to sustain. These changes are internally motivating and creates meaningful and fulfilling moments in your day-to-day. Check out this video by Dr. Russ Harris on living your life based on values rather than goals.



Below is a process which you can use on yourself, with your family or friends or people in your network to develop intentional, incremental, and meaningful change.

Start here: Complete a Values Questionnaire

There are various questionnaires, activities, and apps you can use to help identify your core values. You could complete multiple to see which values appear across the different platforms and can be reviewed again over time as values may change as you move through different stages of your life. Here are some links and resources you could use:

Go on to: Reflect on your current life

Hopefully, your results reflect your vision of yourself and what you truly believe in or some that might have surprised you but are still true. You might have found that you put a high importance on fun and creativity or health and personal growth for example. This might inform some of your natural behaviours as to why you enjoy watching light-hearted tv series to remain playful or have friendships that encourage you to be challenged so that you are always learning and growing. You also might find yourself thinking, “This stuff is important to me! Why aren’t I doing more of it?!”

You are now encouraged to reflect back over the past week, or maybe a month if that’s more applicable to you, and consider:

What areas of your life are you already living your values and want to continue?
What areas of your life are not in line with your values, that oppose it or just don’t feel right?
What is something you have been considering doing that aligns with your values?

It may help to think about each identified value in the context of your life domains such as:

  • Leisure (what do you do for you, during spare time)
  • Relationships (family, friends, colleagues)
  • Home life (how you participate at home, what this looks like)
  • Work (whether you work and want to, the type of role you’re in)
  • Religion and/or spirituality (engaged in religion/spirituality and whether you want to be)
  • Habits (what do you do in your day-to-day without conscious thought)

It is ok to be factual and non-committal at this point. You are only looking at reflecting and writing out what behaviours you are already doing that support or challenge your identified values. It is important to note that you are the one to determine what is and is not in line with your values. Take away doesn’t always equal “not healthy” and fun activities don’t always have to mean attending comedy events or going on adventures. It is whatever that value means to you.

Take a moment here: Look to the future

You’ve gotten to the stage where you’ve identified your values and you have compared this to your current life. What would you like to look different so that you will notice a change when you review in 6- or 12-months?

At this stage, it is important to not focus on what you won’t be doing, but rather on what you will do, as framing the language used influences the success and sustainability of the change to come. As stated in Miller and Rollnick’s (2013) Motivational Interviewing book, besides relaying information, a primary function of language is to motivate and influence behaviour. Using limiting language (stop, won’t, reduce) is focusing on what you won’t be doing but not informing or motivating you to do what you will be doing.

This might look like:
I will eat less sugar -> I will eat foods that nourish my body by increasing my vegetable intake.
I will stop calling myself fat -> I will appreciate my body and what it does for me each day.
I’m giving up binging on tv shows -> I will have a range of different activities I can choose to do to for leisure and to relax.

Move into action: Establishing actionable change

Now you know what success might look like, you can start to identify some small actions that you could take that would be easy additions to your daily life. Consider what is easily achievable without taking on too much at once. Sustainable change happens slowly with small successes over a long time. The best change is when you look back over a month or two and realise how much you have changed without even noticing!

This could look like:

  • Allocating a set time in your day/week for the new behaviour change (getting up 15mins earlier, planning in time with friends, booking in “me” time, booking appointments months in advance)
  • Setting yourself up for success (putting your journal on your pillow each morning, meal planning, putting your clothes the night before, resetting your bedroom each night, having automated money transfers on payday)
  • Embed accountability measures (put up an Instagram post each time you attend, have a friend engage in the behaviour change with you, book group activities)

And finally: Celebrate success along the way!

When looking to set intentional, incremental change, it is not about getting to a final step or an endpoint but a way of living. It is therefore important that you acknowledge successes along the way to maintain motivation as well as celebrate the change you have achieved! This could look like making a mark on the calendar when you have participated in the behaviour change, associating a reward with the behaviour change, or even having little milestones along the way that is meaningful to you.

About the authors

Jenna Noonan is KEO’s PBS Clinical Excellence Lead. Jenna has established the Positive Behaviour Support stream, expanding KEO’s extensive allied health services.

Jenna’s core values are curiosity, connection and supportiveness – which is what enticed her to work as an occupational therapist; finding joy from working with ‘the tricky kids’ as a graduate which continued throughout her career.

Joanne Mainsbridge is the Psychosocial Clinical Lead at KEO. Jo has various special interest areas including trauma, substance use and ethics in healthcare, and has always been passionate about psychosocial disability, working in a client-centred manner and promoting recovery.

In her role as Psychosocial Clinical Lead at KEO, Jo’s priority is ensuring the team feels psychologically safe and empowered to support their participants to achieve their goals, whilst supporting them in their professional development and growth.