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Teachable: the spirit underpinning behavioural change.

There are a number of aspects involved in improving your health ranging from being knowledgeable about  your condition; what action to take to improve matters; being confident about making the necessary changes, to really believing that change is important.  While knowledge, confidence and importance are essential elements of behavioural change, I’ve come to realise that they are in and of themselves not enough.  There is one element that is so often glossed over, or perhaps simply assumed, when it comes to effective behavioural change, and this is the foundational element of being TEACHABLE.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word teachable as  ‘capable of being taught,’ and ‘apt and willing to learn’.  All of us are capable of being taught and most of us are willing to learn – even if it’s sometimes learning the wrong things!  When it comes to effective health-related behavioural change, the key linking word in the dictionary definition of teachable is the word ‘apt’.  And so being teachable in the context of the changes you may need to make to improve your health could mean being capable and willing to learn and apply the things and concepts that make it possible for you to change. First and foremost, this means that you need to acquire a teachable spirit (if you don’t already have one). Someone once wrote that ‘…being teachable is the most important life skill’. Now while some of you may not agree with this statement, it is nonetheless a very important life skill.

Before we take a look at what it means to be teachable in a health context, let’s consider  some of the attributes of being unteachable.  Such individuals don’t:

  • do the research; they don’t read, investigate or try to learn about their conditions,
  • embrace the need to change; they accept the status quo or pay lip service to change,
  • accept responsibility; it’s someone or something else’s fault,
  • accept help;  they resist support, guidance and advice,
  • listen; they don’t  refer or defer to those in the know.

If you have a teachable spirit then the odds are that you will:

  • be inquisitive; want to know more about what to do to improve your health,
  • recognise your limitations; be willing to ask for help and advice
  • be a ‘risk taker’; not be satisfied with the status quo –‘I’m going to give it a go’,
  • be a reflective listener; think deeply in preparing to take remedial action,
  • not give up; accept that transformation is a process and not an event
  • share your enthusiasm for learning new health behaviours with others; engender HOPE in others, i.e. Help Other People Excel

Dr John Maxwell in his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, devotes a whole chapter to Teachability, which he subtitles as, The Pathway of Learning.  He says that, ‘Being teachable depends on two things; capacity and attitude’. Each one of us has certain limitations when it comes to improving capacity, but when it comes to changing our attitude there are very few  inherent  limitations.

Research shows that successful behavioural change is far more dependent on a changed attitude than on IQ, knowledge, or having a special set  of skills.  Dr Maxwell says that ‘…85 percent of success in life is due to attitude, while only 15 percent is due to ability’, and that a ‘negative attitude rarely creates positive change.’

Behavioural change is the most important aspect in preventing and treating the so-called chronic diseases of lifestyle. Having the right attitude positions us to become teachable. This , in turn, improves the likelihood of us changing behaviour. 

Psychologists Dr James Prochaska and Dr Carlo Diclemente developed a model of behavioural change known as the Transtheoretical  Model. This model which is also known as the Stages of Change Model, is depicted in the diagram below. 

The Stages of Change (Prochaska & DiClemente)

The authors of this model state that the processes of change (please note: its processes plural and not process singular) are ‘stage-dependent’. It’s really important for us to identify what stage we are in as we move through the process of changing behaviour. It’s also really important to realise that change is not linear, i.e. going from start to finish is not travelled in a straight line. Setbacks or relapses are part and parcel of successful change. And this is where cultivating the attitude of being teachable comes to the fore; it helps us to position ourselves to overcome the barriers that prevent us from successfully modifying our health-related behaviours. Most importantly, being teachable improves our chances of being able to sustain new healthy behaviours.

Whenever I read the testimonials of people who have been able to improve their health, whether this means stopping smoking, getting more exercise, reversing Type 2 diabetes or losing weight, I try to look behind the bare facts of their stories. I want to identify the reason behind the reason because it is there that their actual story is to be found. Print media is often mute, while a skilled interviewer is able to drill down and get to the reason behind the reason. This is what makes social media such a valuable tool in the right hands.

At UpForIt, we recognise that social media can play significant roles in fostering health-related behavioural change. To this end, we developed a mobile phone App-enabled behavioural change programme, which trained health coaches and other healthcare professionals are able to cost-effectively use in helping their clients and patients.

If you would like help in addressing lifestyle-related conditions, whether being overweight, having Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure etc., or if you would like to know more about the UpForIt App then please email Lona at