Make change easy

NewsMail - Wide Bay Rural Weekly - - BUSH BANTER - DEN­NIS J HOIBERG The Re­silience Whis­perer

I WAS re­cently work­ing with my very ag­i­tated client on how to achieve a change she was seek­ing in her life.

She was try­ing to fig­ure out why this other per­son wouldn’t change to­wards the re­quired out­come when the ben­e­fits were “ob­vi­ous”. I asked my client: “What should this other per­son change?” Again, she said: “Well, it’s ob­vi­ous”, and went on to out­line a se­ries of very com­pelling rea­sons for this change to oc­cur.

She looked at me with a vic­to­ri­ous glare when I re­sponded: “You have out­lined some very good rea­sons as to why you think the other per­son should change. But my ac­tual ques­tion was why should the other per­son change, NOT why you think they should change…” She re­sponded with si­lence be­fore even­tu­ally mut­ter­ing: “It’s ob­vi­ous!” Ob­vi­ous to her but pos­si­bly not to the other per­son.

Change is hard. Our brains don’t like change. Our brains are lazy and de­sire cer­tainty. So, in or­der to achieve change in think­ing and be­hav­iour, the trick is to make it easy for the brain to ac­cept change – and that is harder said than done. I don’t be­lieve you achieve change in be­hav­iour by only fo­cus­ing on the ob­vi­ous or the facts, be­cause after all, you may be the only one who sees and be­lieves in the ‘ob­vi­ous’. Our brain has pow­er­ful mech­a­nisms to stop it from see­ing the ob­vi­ous. The retic­u­lar ac­ti­vat­ing sys­tem (RAS) is a func­tion of the brain that I call the gate­keeper of facts. It’s that part of our brain’s func­tion that de­cides what to ac­knowl­edge and act on – the brain will only see what the brain wants to see. This leads to a phe­nom­e­non re­ferred to as the con­fir­ma­tion bias, re­sult­ing in us un­der­valu­ing ev­i­dence that con­tra­dicts our be­liefs and over­valu­ing ev­i­dence that con­firms them. We fil­ter out in­con­ve­nient truths and ar­gu­ments, which makes it harder to change our think­ing and be­havioural pat­terns.

So, when try­ing to achieve change in mind­set and ac­tion, don’t fo­cus only on the facts. Seek to change per­cep­tion of the facts and why peo­ple should change – the ‘what’s in it for me’ re­sponse (WIIFM).

The WIIFM can be ei­ther neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive.

When en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to change, don’t use fear or shame as a mo­ti­va­tor to change. Don’t say things like: “If you don’t do this, then…”, “other peo­ple are say­ing this as well” etc.

These are threats that will only force the other per­son to take an en­trenched po­si­tion or, at best, will re­sult in short term “be­grudg­ing” change.

This be­grudg­ing re­ac­tion will lead to in­au­then­tic change fol­lowed by a re­venge­ful mind­set and/or be­hav­iour.

So, look for the mo­ti­va­tor to change and once found, work with the in­di­vid­ual to take small steps that al­low for small wins – where the mind­set or be­havioural change is hav­ing a pos­i­tive, de­sir­able ef­fect.

Peo­ple will then see the ben­e­fits of the ac­tual change and feel mo­ti­vated for the change to con­tinue.

It may be that sup­port in the form of skills upgrade, chang­ing small habits, in­ter­act­ing with dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple, be­ing ex­posed to dif­fer­ent mind­sets or in­for­ma­tion is re­quired to sus­tain the new be­hav­iour.

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