Focus on...Getting to Behaviour Change

How do you get your clients, your citizens, your family, or even yourself, to do things differently? Change is one of the trickier things in life. Even when someone wants to change, it is often difficult; it is that much more complex to get someone to alter behaviour when they don't want to. Yet behaviour change is vital: if we want to have a sustainable planet, people are going to HAVE to work on doing things in a different way.

Switch cover

SWITCH -- How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath, outlines a framework for changing behaviour. Their approach targets is those with no power to force change and with relatively few resources.

The authors look closely at psychological research and study successful change actions. They created a model for change based on the way our minds work. They liken our minds to a human rider on an elephant. The rider, the smaller part of our minds, is rational and analytic. The larger part of our minds, the elephant, is emotional and irrational. The rider can get the elephant moving to a certain extent, but to really go anywhere requires the elephant's cooperation. The third part of the model is the environment, think of it as the 'path' that the elephant and rider are on.

The rider's weakness is its tendency to over-analyze and not do anything; it operates best with clear, specific directions. The elephant's weakness is that it responds only to emotion; it needs motivation. Changes can be made easier by altering the situation, or 'path.' So changes require: 1) directing the rider 2) motivating the elephant and 3) shaping the path.

Within these three steps, the Heath brothers outline specific strategies that have been proven to work:

To direct the Rider:

  • Follow the Bright Spots: Investigate what's working and clone it. This is a powerful tool. Instead of analyzing problems, look for situations where things worked in spite of the negatives and try to figure out what went right.
  • Script the Critical Moves: Don't think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviours. The Rider functions best with clear directions. Don't say 'eat healthier', say 'when you are in the grocery store, choose 1% milk over the higher fat options'.
  • Point to the Destination: Change is easier when you know where you're going and why it's worth it.

To Motivate the Elephant:

  • Find the Feeling: Knowing something isn't enough to cause change. Make people feel something.
  • Shrink the Change: The Elephant can balk at making a change because it looks too big and too scary. Break down the change into smaller pieces that the Elephant can manage.
  • Grow Your People: Cultivate a sense of identity and instil the growth mindset.

To Shape the Path:

  • Tweak the Environment: When the situation changes, the behaviour changes. So change the situation. We have a tendency to attribute behaviour to 'the way people are' rather than the situation, i.e., we might label someone who cuts us off while driving as a jerk rather than considering that most of us drive like jerks if we're in a real panic.
  • Build Habits: When behaviour is habitual, it's "free"" -- it doesn't tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits.
  • Rally The Herd: Behaviour is contagious. Help it spread.

The strengths of this book are its clarity and its wonderful stories. All of the strategies are illustrated by inspiring real-world examples of successful changes, taken from every field and covering the range from personal change to organizational change to taking on a whole culture.

Switch is definitely worth reading and re-reading (so much so that I'm not sure I want to share my copy...)

[Source: May 2010 WasteWatch ]