In this post you’ll find a few practical tips on how to spur change in people.
Change of any kind is among the most difficult things humans struggle with. I believe that if we were all able to change our behavior to whatever we wanted it to be, the world would be a better place, where people are healthier, happier, and wealthier. In fact, although most of us have a tendency to blame the government, or a group of select few for the disparities of wealth on the planet, it’s believed in some circles that even if somehow we were able to divide all the wealth that there is evenly among everybody, the same people who possess most of the money today would do so again after a while. We can say that luck plays a role, but what plays an even bigger one is our day to day behavior and habits in our accumulation of wealth, health and happiness.
How to spur change in people?
Again change is difficult, and a part of it is due to the fact that we don’t know all there is to know about change itself, and human behavior.
Knowing how to change is the first step after deciding to change. Just like with drug addicts, the first step is to admit the problem, and wanting to fix it, and the next step right after that is to know how to do so. The knowledge you implement in changing yourself can also be implemented in changing others. Just like with ourselves, it is not enough to just tell a person to change, since if she doesn’t know how, it doesn’t really matter how much you yell at them, you’ll always get the same results.
1. Big overnight changes usually occur only in Hollywood
We are fed the idea that all it takes to change is one single thing, and our desires to do so will be unlocked. The movies we watch tell us the old story of the main character who faces a life changing moment, and from there he chooses to lose weight, or becomes courageous almost overnight. It’s true that it’s possible for one to have such life changing moments in real life, but to bet on them to make major changes is a losing choice, since as you’re probably aware of, they are not that common. Another commonly held belief is that motivation is all we need to change our lives, but this too is a problem, since motivation just like hunger and thirst, are unstable parts of ourselves that come and go in almost unpredictable times.
Motivation usually doesn’t stay for long enough to keep a person exercising for two years in a row, or keep working on her project to completion, in fact notice at the beginning of every project there is always the moment in which all members are excited to conquer the world, but after a few months, if not weeks, or even days, this excitement quickly wanes, and one by one each becomes more tempted to abandon the project. This is how motivation works, less like the waves in a pool, and more like the waves in the beach controlled by an unpredictable weather.
The book The compound effect by Darren Hardy offers us a solution to this problem. Instead of looking for massive changes in behavior occurring overnight just like we see in the movies, we should instead make small changes that we can sustain for long enough to make them habits. The problem with big changes is that although they might be the ideal, they happen to be more difficult to sustain. The idea of the book is that small and seemingly inconsequential changes compound over time, in the same way that money does when is re-invested over and over again.
According to research by University College London, it takes about 66 days for one to make a behavior/action a habit, so if your problem is how long should you keep doing what you’re doing, the answer is at least 66 days. If your goal is to insteal new behaviors from your team, or your organization, this is already a good start. Deconstruct the ideal behavior into smaller and simpler behaviors that they can start right away, and make sure they sustain it for at least 66 days. The thing about habits is that the longer you sustain them, the longer their lifetime is. This is the old case in which the fact that you did what you had to do today, increases the odds that you’ll do it tomorrow, and so on.
Another thing about change is that it’s only possible if you know what to do. We live in a world in which we are all encouraged to be good people, but often enough is the case in which opinions diverge in terms of what’s good, and what’s not. Even the ones who are considered to be the most evil sometimes do what they do because they think their actions are fundamentally good. So, it’s no wonder that often also good people do bad things.
Something similar happens to all of us, when we decide to make a change. We know what the end goal is(lose weight, be a better person, etc), but we lack the knowledge of what to do to get there. This idea is portrayed in two books: Influencer by Al Switzler, David Maxfield, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan, and The Advertising Effect by Adam Ferrier and Jennifer Fleming. We think that the reason why people fail to change is that of the lack of motivation. So we spend lots of time and/or even money finding ways to do just that. We encourage people to visualize their goals and to believe they can achieve them without even considering the possibility that they just don’t know what to do.
If this is the case, then the solution is simple: teach them how to get there. If you’re trying to change yourself the solution is similar: learn what to do. You can do this through books, courses, seminars, etc. Remember motivation is not everything.
It would be a lie to say that one can change himself or others without motivation. Motivation is the reason why we are what we all are. What motivates us the most is what’s done, and just like gossips, there is some truth to it, or people wouldn’t be talking about it. After coming up with a plan to realize the grand vision, the next step is to find a way to motivate yourself/ the person you want to change. Motivation is one word with many variants. Meaning there are different kinds of motivation, and this might be the reason why always attempting the same motivation strategy doesn’t work in some occasions. Think about the cases in which the person is intrinsically motivated to achieve/do something.
This is the kind of motivation that comes from deep inside the person. Maybe the pride of achieving what they are trying to achieve is the driver, or the person simply enjoys doing the activity in question. Maybe this will enhance their own visions of themselves, and showing how this could be so is a great way to spur some intrinsic motivation in ourselves and in others.
Explore the social
Another kind of motivation humans have is of the social kind. As much as we would like to believe that we don’t need others, the truth is that we do. It’s known in the scientific community that depriving a person of social contact is a form of torture, and if you think about it, this is why sometimes being left out of the group can cause depression, or even suicide in teenagers. So, now that it’s established how much we need others to function properly, it’s time to take find ways to use it to motivate people.
Since our brains are averse to social isolation, it’s important to know that such deprivation is not only of the artificial kind where prison officers or scientists manufacture, but can also happen naturally when people just decide to leave us outside the group. This usually happens when we fall from the standards of the group, or when we somehow break it’s rules. One way to spur change is to place people in environments which the changed and improved version of themselves is the norm. That way being who they currently are or doing what they currently do will be looked down upon, making it easier for them to stick to their newly chosen behaviors.
Make the action more enjoyable
Motivation is also in a way a matter of enjoyment. This is why it’s not difficult to keep old and bad habits. We enjoy doing them. Which means that a person could be motivated to change, but if the aversion to the small action you created for them is greater than their motivation for change, consistency for 66 days will be a problem. You have to remember that as humans there are two things that we spend most if not all of our time doing: avoiding/preventing/going away from pain, or seeking/ moving towards pleasure. So, if you can find a way to do what the book Influencer, defines as critical actions enjoyable, you’ll make them more likely to be acted upon.
This is the ultimate hack for change. Remember that a part of what goes into bad habits is the fact that they are enjoyable in some level. If scientists were somehow able to take a peek at what goes on inside your brain while you do anything you enjoy doing, chances are that among the set of chemicals they would be able to see, one of them would be the one that goes by the name of dopamine. The scientific community has found out that this chemical is present in our brains, when (you guessed it!) we do something enjoyable. There is some people who go as far as to say that the neurochemical itself is the reason why we feel the enjoyment in the first place, and when we do something we enjoy, the action triggers the release of this magic neurochemical.
The thing about enjoyment of any action is that it makes it more likely that we will repeat the action. Again, we are professional seekers of pleasure, and avoidant of pain. So, if your goal is to make a behavior more likely to be repeated, one thing you can do is to make it more enjoyable, and a way to do just that as suggested by the book The advertising effect is to turn the behavior into a game.
Games are inherently enjoyable activities, and just like paint in a wall, they have the power to turn make other things that come in contact with it get their properties. As far as games are concerned, the gamified activities, inherit the property of fun.
Make it a group issue
Another way to spur change in people, specially in the cases in which change is required across an entire group, is to take advantage of this instead of trying to motivate each individual separately. A group just like money, and pretty much any other powerful tool can have different effects depending on how it’s used. Groups can be hubs for the worst, and the most evil of the behavior, and just as likely, also for the most genuine, and world changing actions or movements. The reason why this is possible is that the group is mostly better and stronger than the individual. A single person by herself can achieve a great deal, but a group, through the compounding of the energy and motivation of each individual for the cause, can start and stop wars almost out of nothing.
The thing about groups is that as counter-intuitive as it might be, you don’t have to influence every single individual. The book Influence, teaches us to look for key people on each group and try to influence them first. The reason for choosing those people is that they are usually what the authors call by “opinion leaders”, who are followed by the group, and are to some level trusted to have the wisdom and experience to make the best decisions. So, if they change, the group is more likely to adopt the change.
It is all about knowledge and experience 😉
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