If you continue doing the same thing, you will continue getting the same result.
The above maxim is so obvious and yet so true. Why is it that people are so resistant to create change even in the face of repeated undesired results?
Quick answer: Change is Hard
Even if we feel open to change, our brains are predisposed to being more comfortable with the expected. Studies have shown that only 1 in 9 coronary bypass patients actively improve their exercise and eating habits after surgery, indicating that people are highly resistant to change, even when their own health is at risk! This resistance can be seen in both individuals and entire organizations and therefore must be factored in by leaders during times of desired change, which, in most cases, is right now.
Why is it Hard to Create Change?
Technology such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) have allowed scientists to develop real-time visuals of brain activity, ultimately answering the question of why, anatomically, we perceive certain emotions under different circumstances. Using these technologies, studies have shown similarities across populations in the way our brains perceive physical and social stimulation.
For example, the activity that takes place in our brains when we’re faced with change is called a “threat reaction” due to its striking similarity to the activity that occurs when we feel in physical danger. We have all witnessed positive changes, yet our most complex and important organ tells us that change, no matter how positive or exciting, is threatening.
That’s not the only parallel. Managers and leaders may be interested to know that the brain reacts similarly to social reward, such as public recognition or being treated fairly, and monetary reward. That’s right—a pat on the back for doing a good job creates the same brain reaction as a bonus cheque. In tough economic times, today’s leaders must be embracing the knowledge gleaned from neuroscience as a basis for their leadership practices.
So, You Want to Create Change
You realize it’s time for some different results, which means changing the way you or your organization does things. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:
1. It Starts with You
Whether you hold a leadership role in your organization or you’re trying to get more exercise, you probably have more control than you think. Make a list of all the things that need to change in order for you to create the outcome you’re looking for. Then, start doing them! If you’re trying to create a more productive workplace, start small with things like using a planner properly, checking your email less frequently, and setting and tracking realistic goals. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a dream.
2. It Also Involves your Team
Your team may be your family, friends, coworkers, or employees. The threat reaction that takes place in your brain may be lessened by surrounding yourself with a support network. Get your team on board with the changes you’d like to create, and then take steps to help them reach their goals as well. Always remember though: Your team will help you to reach your goals, but you shouldn’t rely on them to get there. Don’t forget tip #1—own it!
3. Make it a Habit
There is an ongoing debate about how long it takes people to turn a new behaviour into a habit. Whether it’s 21, 30, or 90 days, the fact remains that it requires a commitment. As you work to create your change into a habit, expect that your “human” tendency will be to revert back to your old ways. Continue to envision your new behaviours and the desired end result.
4. Pay Attention
Acknowledge your progress and notice your response to your success. As you experience your own success, your brain will have your body begging for more. Place continuous reminders of your goals everywhere—on your fridge or bedside table or pop-ups on your computer—and have the people around you hold you accountable. You don’t need to stress about your goals or allow them to add additional pressure to your day, but keep them in your thoughts to resist temptation. Paying constant attention to a positive behaviour will actually create change in your brain.
Why Not Start Now?
It’s almost a new year with fresh new aspirations and dreams. Think of the changes that you’d like to see in yourself or in your organization and create a plan to work towards them, starting right now. If there’s any way we can help you achieve your goals, we’re here for you.