Could behaviour change science be the key to improving patients' wellbeing?

Our daily choices have a significant impact on our health. Understanding the complexity of behavioural change and the need for tailored strategies empowers health professionals to guide patients towards healthier lifestyles.

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Our behaviour impacts our health.

Smoking is linked to heart disease, respiratory disorders, and some cancers. A poor diet and lack of physical activity can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Excessive stress and lack of sleep can contribute to poor mental health and chronic pain.

Our everyday choices drive up to 50% of health outcomes.

In Australia, excessive alcohol consumption causes 40% of liver cancer cases. About 53% of the country's type 2 diabetes cases could be eliminated if there wasn't obesity. Yet, over 30% of adults carry extra weight, increasing their risk of heart disease, some cancers, arthritis, and mental health issues besides type 2 diabetes.

Health practitioners play a fundamental role in helping patients undertake behavioural change journeys to better health. With a good understanding of behaviour change science and the right set of tools, you can make a vital difference in your patients' lives.

Behaviour change: a complex journey


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Behaviour change is hard. Whether adopting a healthier diet, committing to regular exercise, or breaking free from dependencies, altering our behaviour is one of the most challenging things in life. It's a journey fraught with obstacles and self-doubt. Yet, sustaining healthy habits is one of the most important things we can do to live a long and healthy life.

But breaking old habits is not solely about willpower.

Sticking to a new evening exercise routine becomes challenging when life is filled with a hectic to-do list, balancing work, personal responsibilities, and family obligations.

To create and maintain a new routine, we need consistency and support.

When it comes to behaviour change, we are frequently caught in a motivational paradox. Regret, shame, fear, and guilt may seem powerful catalysts for long-term transformation. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.

These emotions tend to overwhelm us with feelings of inadequacy, fuelling a pervasive sense that something is wrong with us. We get trapped in an all-or-nothing way of thinking where mistakes are not allowed.

But here's the catch: changing our behaviour is a multi-faceted journey that rarely yields to the pressure of instant transformation.

Real change thrives on small, specific actions and an understanding of the process's complexities. It is critical to resist the urge to change too much, too quickly and recognise that the path to long-term transformation is more nuanced than we often assume.

As a health professional, you can guide patients to live healthier lives through knowledge, compassion, and evidence-based practises. You can be their ally on this challenging journey of transformation, assisting them in identifying and overcoming barriers and laying out a feasible and sustainable plan for long-term change.

How behaviour change science can help you support your patients


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When it comes to supporting people in making healthier choices, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. We don't always have a straightforward answer for what will work best for each patient. However, behaviour change science tells us that focusing on just one aspect of a person's behaviour often doesn't lead to significant changes, especially for those facing the toughest health challenges.

To help your patients on their journey toward better health is like putting together a puzzle with three essential pieces.

First, you need to figure out what aspects of the patient's behaviour need to be different, like improving their diet or being more physically active. You also need to identify what barriers the patient might experience when trying to break a habit. Do they have access to fresh, healthy food? Do they have the means to see a psychologist to help them quit smoking?

Then, it's time to customise a strategy for your patient, offering doable, small changes that they can slowly integrate into their daily lives.

The last piece of the puzzle is empowering your patients by helping them feel in control of their choices and their health. They should become able to make decisions about what's best for them and feel confident about it.

Whether you are a family doctor, a nurse, a social worker, an occupational therapist, a dietician, a physiotherapist, a psychologist or have another role within healthcare, chances are you often come across patients who might not be making the healthiest choices.

You are best placed to encourage positive change in their lives.

To best help your patients, you must stay up-to-date with the latest research on behaviour change.

The University of Melbourne offers an online course, Behaviour Change for Clinical Practice, that will equip you with a better understanding of behaviour change science. Throughout this 6-week Melbourne MicroCert, you’ll gain the confidence and skills to support your patients in their behaviour change path.

For health professionals who want to implement behaviour change interventions in their own practice, it is crucial to learn the theory and techniques of behavioural change, including motivational enhancement, SMART goal development, if-then planning, self-monitoring and self-evaluation, and habit formation.

These methods can help you design personalised journeys of change that perfectly suit the needs of each patient. With sustainable, evidence-based strategies, you can prevent and treat various physical and psychological conditions and improve your patients’ health outcomes.

How mindfulness influences behaviour change


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Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in behaviour change. This ancient practice has origins deeply rooted in various contemplative and spiritual traditions. It has evolved over thousands of years and has been shaped by diverse cultures.

Today, a growing number of health professionals are integrating mindfulness into their clinical practice.

Mindfulness helps you experience the here and now. Through mindfulness, you can become more aware of your environment, external events, and internal states, including thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

This approach also underscores the importance of not reacting in a judgmental way to internal or external events. It involves accepting your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without attempting to respond, evaluate, or change them.

In recent years, general practitioners, psychologists, nutritionists, and other health professionals have used mindfulness to help their patients deal with a variety of symptoms and conditions, such as chronic pain, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, stress and burnout.

In a recent clinical trial, researchers randomly divided patients with high blood pressure into two groups. One group participated in a mindfulness‐based program adapted for elevated blood pressure. The control group received standard care. The study showed that the mindfulness program was more effective at reducing blood pressure than usual care.

Researchers also investigated whether mindfulness-based stress reduction may benefit people experiencing migraines in the Effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation vs Headache Education for Adults with Migraine clinical trial. They showed that mindfulness-based treatments can reduce the burden of migraines by reducing headache frequency, improving quality of life, and reducing catastrophising and depression.

Mindfulness can be a vital resource for supporting your patients' behavioural change journey.

Mindfulness training for health professionals


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If you are keen to recommend mindfulness techniques to your patients for managing chronic conditions more effectively, it's essential to experience mindfulness personally.

Taking a mindfulness course will help you understand how your patients might react to it. While not everyone may initially be receptive to mindfulness, your skilful guidance can inspire more people to embrace this practice.

Mindfulness in Clinical Practice is an online Melbourne MicroCert designed specifically for health practitioners seeking the skills and confidence to provide clinical mindfulness techniques to their patients through nationally recognised practice standards.

Mindfulness could become a powerful tool in your behavioural change toolbox. It empowers people to make healthier choices by promoting self-awareness and emotional regulation. It is a valuable intervention for improving mental wellbeing and encouraging positive behavioural changes.

A new era of patient-centred healthcare

Behaviour change science offers a path to lasting health improvements by providing health professionals with the tools to effectively support patients in changing their behaviours.

Understanding the complexities of behaviour change and implementing evidence-based interventions are vital skills. In parallel, mindfulness training can enhance your ability to provide compassionate care, reduce stress, and manage several chronic conditions.

Incorporating these techniques and approaches can usher in a new era of patient-centred healthcare where behaviour change and mindfulness play a central role in improving patient wellbeing and ultimately fostering a healthier society.

Melbourne MicroCerts are ideal for busy professionals seeking valuable practical skills that can be applied immediately in the workplace. Taught by industry experts, explore the University of Melbourne’s diverse range of health-focused online short courses.


By Manuela Callari