behavior change

By Any Other Name

Habit loops. Behavior change. Change models. Seems there are a number of ways we describe the very human phenomenon of laying neural paths. New ways to say the same thing seem to pop up every day. Here are a few:

Charles Duhigg: Cue, Routine, Reward

BJ Fogg: Trigger, Ability, Motivation

My friend’s model of change: There’s Aware; Then aware after the fact; Then sometimes catch yourself; Then eventually stop

John B. Arden: Focus, Effort to change, Effortlessness, Determined to stay in practice

Kurt Lewin: Unfreezing (getting ready to change); Change/Transition; Freezing (or refreezing)

James Prochaska: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Termination

Feedback Loop: Data, Relevance (the context of the behavior), Consequence, and Action

Martha Beck: Death and rebirth; Dreaming and scheming; The hero’s sage; The promised land

What is striking about these models is that they all seem to be reinterpretations of classic models.
The story-telling model: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Or said another way: stasis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, resolution.
Or frankly, the hero’s journey (paraphrased and abbreviated): call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, first threshold, belly of the whale (bottoming out), road of trials, limited success, temptation, atonement, success, return.
The difference is that these classic models seem to acknowledge the complexity of change and the journey change requires whereas the more modern adaptations look more like quick fixes.

People Can Change

Research by David S. Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin shows that a simple message can help high school students cope with social pressures and stress. 

"At the beginning of the school year, students participated in a reading and writing exercise intended to instill a basic, almost banal message to help them manage tension: People can change."

In an approach that looks a lot like that of Stanford's Greg Walton, the study had students read an article on how personality can change. then students were asked to read stories from high school seniors who described conflicts and how they were eventually able to manage them. Then students were asked to give advice to younger students.  

Be Careful What You Think

You can change. Well at least research shows your brain can. It's called neuroplasticity. What's interesting about our brain's ability to change is just how powerful thought is. In fact, scientists discovered that "the region of motor cortex that controls the piano-playing fingers also expanded in the brains of volunteers who imagined playing the music--just as it had in those who actually played it."

Another reason to watch your thoughts and visualize success.

Books in 5 Quotes: Robert B. Cialdini

Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

Cialdini's book explains with alarming insight all of our human foibles and how they are so easily exploited. Given the new year and the focus on change, I thought I would highlight his quotes on commitment and consistency, in particular, and how the value humans assign to them can be leveraged for behavior change.

1. “It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

2. “Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. For appearances’ sake, then, the more public a stand, the more reluctant we will be to change it.”

3. “The more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.”

4. “It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.”

5. “Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures. A large reward is one such external pressure. It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act. Consequently, we won’t feel committed to it. The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.