People like to do what they know they are able to do. Conversely, people don’t like to do what they don’t know they are able to do. When trying to change your own or someone else’s behavior, knowing the desirable behavior is not enough to lead to change. Knowing and liking are totally different things.
If people only like doing what they know they can do, it explains why most of us continue with bad habits even when we know they’re bad! A new behavior is daunting, because we don’t know if we can do it, and that makes it un-likable!
What’s the good news? Now you know why it’s hard (impossible) to change habits! You can easily see why people seem to be doing things that don’t appear healthy, engaging or even fun. People just do what they know they can do, what they have always done. For them (or you), it’s better than doing something un-likable.
What’s the bad news? Knowing the answer is totally different from liking the answer…it’s still really hard to change habits and behavior!
Even more good news though, is if you are a person that likes improvement…either in your own life of the lives of people around you (or both)…you will want to learn to simplify the process for behavior change and goal achievement.
People expect to fail at new things, and most behavior choices are unconsciously based in fear. However, if a change-maker shifts this fear into the expectation of success, activities that previously seemed un-likable, may become inherently likable.
Nothing succeeds like success. Therefore, knowing you are able to do something creates an expectation of success. Whether you are trying to change an undesirable personal habit, your child’s behavior, or an entire organizational system…the hindrances are the same and the catalysts for successful change are the same.
When you break down a habit into the vital behaviors and the moments in which decisions are made to engage in the behavior, AND can measure the progress in these two areas, your confidence in your ability to change will grow. Therefore, the un-likable becomes likable!
You might think investigating and planning around these important factors, although it most assuredly will lead to successful (and sustainable) goal achievement, just takes too darn long. And frankly, you may think, who has time for that?
A more important question, however, is: do you have time to enjoy reaching your goals or not? And even: How much money and time do you spend on trying to change your own or someone else’s behavior to no avail? For how long have you been doing it and how much longer will you continue to do it?
Now, think about investing a few more weeks and coming up with a well-thought out change management plan and compare the two. If you are not willing to do the latter, you are really not engaging in behavior change, but merely toying with it.
If you’re still reading, you are up for what it takes. Congratulations!
First, discernment is your main weapon. Discern what is hindering behavior change, and what is promoting behavior change. To make it simple, I’ve supplied a list of most common hindrances and promoters of positive behavior change. They’re short lists, but remember this is the ‘simple’ version!
Hindrances to Successful Change:
1-Believing Bad Data or No Data
2-Wrong Goals or Unclear Goals
3-Absence of Social and Environmental Support
1-Believing bad data or no data:
To put this simply, we believe what is not true. Today people are constantly exposed to a great many streams of information and are forced to make unconscious choices about what they tune into and believe. This is highly subjective and usually not helpful. It is likely these unconscious choices are leading to reinforcement and entrenchment of current behavior. Further, when people inadvertently collect data on what they have already tried, they are usually confusing doubt and resignation (again subjective and not accurate…or ‘bad’… data) with actual data.
For example, let’s say someone wants to lose weight so they can enjoy looking and feeling better. They weigh themselves after some weeks of dieting and find they have not lost weight. They become discouraged and give up the diet. There are several problems with this type of data-gathering in decision-making.
Your first question is: are you measuring the right thing? Secondly, is your measurement subjective or objective? Consider: is weight really the best measure of weight loss and feeling good? Actually, no. Measuring inches, body mass index (ratio of fat to muscle) and water weight, as well as energy level, emotional wellness and how your clothes fit are all measures that are possibly more important and accurate than your scale. (How old is your scale anyway?…)
Testing for allergies and how you metabolize different foods is also an important element in weight loss. If you suffer from food addiction then weight data should not even be what you measure, but rather decdecreasing the likelihood of binging behavior.
2-Wrong or Unclear Goals
The fatal flaw in most people’s goal-forming is that their goals often are not linked to the actual behavior that determines the goal outcome. If your goal is ‘quit smoking’, without identifying clear and measurable results, you will fail. Why? Because it is not possible to reach this goal. Do you recall what was learned about people not liking to do things that are not do-able…?
People will not take action to reach an un-reachable or an un-doable goal. What is do-able, is a specific, time-bound result. For example, 1-explore at least 3 programs for combatting smoking addiction by the end of this week, 2-decide on one by the end of next week, 3-create a timeline for completion and start the program by August 15th.
When you set a goal, make sure that you can identify three actionable steps that can be taken immediately to reach it. If you cannot do this, you have chosen an un-reachable goal.
If we continue with the weight loss goal scenario, ‘weight loss’ alone is not enough to achieve your goal. You must break down the goal into crucial behaviors (i.e. reduce ‘cheat’ meals to one per week, walk or move at least 20 minutes every day, and plan a day ahead for the following day’s meals, etc.).
What these two examples have in common is that the vital behavior is identified and the goals pertain specifically to that.
3-Lack of Environmental or Social Support
Every bad habit or behavior was created in an environment. So, the environment, and therefore the people in the environment, have to be involved in changing it. In the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,1 the authors call this “turning a ‘me’ problem into a ‘we’ problem.”
Find a way to elicit the support of the people around you, share the goal with them. Let them know specific actions they can take to support you, and turn it into a game that everyone can play and win!
To address the structural part of the environment equation, make changes in your space so that it is easier to engage in the new habit. For example, put books or knitting needles around the house instead of ash trays or packs of cigarettes.
Or, if your goal is to snack on more healthy foods, prepare portion-size containers of carrots, hummus or nuts. (PS I am not a nutrition or weight loss expert, so please consider these examples only as hypothetical…and consult a nutritionist or medical professional for actual dietary advice.)
Promoters of Successful Change:
1-Gather and Believe Good Data (i.e. the right story)
2-Simplify, Clarify and Measure the Goal
3-Cultivate a Feeling of Control (mastery)
1-Gather and Believe in Good Data (i.e. the right story)
Each person makes hundreds of decisions every day…and the majority of them are unconscious. For example, the average person makes over 200 choices every day only in regard to food. Imagine all the other choices we make about every other behavior (when to speak, who with, how much effort to put forth and on and on!).
Unfortunately, we may not even be aware that we are making the decisions so we most certainly are not aware of why. The ‘why’ probably has more to do with information we have absorbed that wasn’t processed or analyzed, then with our own intentions. The secret is to begin to become aware of where you are getting information. Don’t rely on just one source. Question what you are believing and who you are believing. If you are not sure who or what to believe, it’s now easier than ever to do your own research. Look at scientific research by going onto Google Scholar. You can find just about any topic that’s has been studied and published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Lastly, sometimes the worst source of data is the information we tell ourselves. When we have a flop, we may make up a meaning about it that we decide is the truth. For example, if a prospect doesn’t call you back you may think, “He thinks I’m a fraud and doesn’t want to do business with me.” For some reason, this type of information seems to carry enough weight for all of us to believe our own terrible stories! The actual truth may be the prospect was busy, or needed more information and wanted to call but lost your number. Why not resist creating a news story until you actually have the facts! Or, tell yourself a story that is inspiring instead of disheartening (i.e. There is someone out there waiting for my call and they are going to be thrilled about my product!)
2-Simplify, Clarify and Measure the Goal
To make sure you are choosing ‘reachable’ goals, you have to be able to clearly determine when you do not reach the goal. For example, to ‘feel better’ is not a reachable goal because you don’t know how you feel now, and you don’t know how much better you want to feel. Instead, you could say, “My goal is to have more pain-free days per month than I currently have, starting today. Since I now have 12 pain-free days per month, this next month I will have at least 13.” This is now a reachable goal, and therefore a likable goal! This goal gives one energy and inspiration because of its clarity and do-ableness.
You also need to make the behavior that effects the goal outcome a very clear element of the goal. For example, if doing your physical therapy exercises leads to more pain-free days, make doing the exercises the goal. Make the desired behavior simple, and likely.
Further, when you accomplish this, make sure to measure it. Measuring drives behavior. There is something inherently satisfying about checking a box when you have done something. When the behavior connects to intrinsic satisfaction, you are internally motivated.
3-Cultivate a Feeling of Control or Mastery
People perform better in an environment a feeling of competence and mastery, informing and deliberate practice experience. Change-makers in organizations, companies and behavioral health, make sure that the participant maintains control over actions and outcomes by measuring actions and results. As mentioned in #2, the more people feel they are competent and capable of reaching goals, the more they will take action to reach the goals, and therefore, experience success. Measuring a growing ability and acknowledging when the accomplishment of an important step to reaching a goal, gives one a sense of control.
I use ‘score charts’ that hang on the wall to give team members (or children) a way to feel in control of their own choices and therefore to feel accountable for them. Recording your own measures allows you to see the impact of your work, and thereby gaining confidence in your ability to do the thing you previously didn’t want to do. Putting it somewhere that everyone can see it enables a feeling of control over the environment and enlisting others in the game.
Celebration is an element that bonds people together…and some research suggests it increases happiness2. When people are united in their joy regarding an achievement, new baby, new house, graduation, or any number of things, the bonds they form are usually lasting and invigorating. The same thing happens when we allow ourselves to celebrate our own actions. Notice I do not say celebrate our ‘success’, but rather ‘actions’. When we celebrate our actions, we our reinforcing the behavior of taking action! This is required before we can experience success, or failure, or anything! That is why it is important to acknowledge and celebrate any and all actions you take towards a goal.
It doesn’t have to be huge. For example, taking a few moments to dance around your office, allowing yourself the time to take a walk through the woods, or laying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade, these are all ways to celebrate yourself. Self-talk is also a reward. You can say, “I did the thing that was on my list!”, or, “I made the phone call I have been putting off for two months!”, or just keep it simple, “Yay me!”. This may feel silly and hokey, but just trust me. Allowing ourselves to feel good about taking action is one of the best ways to make sure you keep taking action.
Hopefully, this blogpost gives you some new ideas how to be more effective when instigating change and achieving goals…whether for yourself or your team. Although a greatly simplified list (research and literature on this topic is quite extensive!) it is still a lot to process at one sitting. If I may suggest, take one or two suggestions at a time and see what can most easily be integrated into your way of doing things. And, of course if you need support with any aspect of setting goals, creating a behavior change implementation or monitoring program, or if you simply know you need a coach, you know how to reach me, right? Dana@DanasMyCoach.com
1- Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2007). Influencer: The power to change anything. Tata McGraw-Hill Education.
2- Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.