knelson – Page 3 – Behavior Matters!

Author: knelson Page 3 of 6

Habit vs Routine

12353863_mAs I’ve been researching how people purposefully change, I’ve been focused on trying to understand their habits.  Habits, are those actions where we have a trigger or cue, engage in a behavior or action, and are rewarded for that behavior, thus establishing a stronger connection and the response becomes automatic.

Habits have an element of craving associated with them.  The habit behavior satisfies that craving.  This is why habits are such powerful drivers of behavior.

What is really powerful about habits (for those of us who think about these things) is that we often don’t even realize that they are working on us.

They act at a subconscious level.

Take salt for an example.  By most measures, Americans intake more salt than our bodies require – in some instances, way more.  We don’t really need to add salt to most of our meals; particularly to those meals that are processed or purchased at a restaurant.   Yet, many of us are in the habit of asking “please pass the salt” before we even taste our food.  The habit of putting salt on our food has become automatic and we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

It is this unconscious power that is so enticing when we are thinking about how people change.  If we can harness these habits and steer them in the right direction, then our change efforts are significantly more likely to be achieved.  If we are doing the right behaviors, whether that be exercising, brushing our teeth, meditating, journaling our thoughts or any number of other things, we are more likely to be successful.

The problem is that habits for behaviors that take more effort and focus are not as easy to form – and in some instances, may never be able to be formed.

That is where routines come into play.

Routines are those activities that we do regularly – again, often preceded by a cue.  The difference from habits is that routines never get to that subconscious level.  We always need to consciously focus on our routines.

In my work on purposeful change, I had not focused on routines as much as habits.  Or I conflated the two – combining them into one larger concept.

Routines are the hard stuff that we all know have to be done – but we often failed at.

Routines are getting up at 5:30 AM to get to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Routines are the dedicating the first hour of work to writing your book.  Routines are practicing your piano for 30 minutes every day.

We don’t automatically do these things.

We have to work at routines.  There is no subconscious response to a cue – instead, there is a need to focus on doing them.  The cue might trigger our thought process, but we actually have to make a conscious decision to say “yes” to starting the behavior.

Thus in my examination of what makes purposeful change more likely, I had not put too much thought into these.  Yes, routines were important, but we already knew that.  They weren’t a “hack” that would make change easier.  They were the hard work that you had to do.

These were the plans that we put in place to make a change.  These were the commitments that we would make – like I’m going to go to the gym three times a week or I’m going to write for an hour each day to get my book done.

Routines were the mundane, boring stuff.

But now I’m thinking that was too short-sighted.  That real change happens when you not only harness your habits but when you ratchet-up your routines.

One piece of that ratcheting is to understand how you can make routines more like habits or at least think about them like habits.

How do we get the “craving” to do a routine such that it overcomes any of the excuses we would typically find to “not do” the behavior.

Behavioral economics tells us that we make different decisions for our “future self” than we do for our “present self.”  We make plans or believe that our “future self” will eat the salad with the fat free dressing – but when dinner time comes, our “present self” is tempted by the desire to have the tasty 1/2 lb bacon and blue cheese burger (yum!).  Or the “future self” of the morning will get up early to go for a run, but the “present self” in the morning hits the snooze for another 10 minutes of sleep (3x).

We need to understand how to make that “present self” temptation pale in comparison to the craving of the routine.  

This is the “hack” that I think we need.

Purposeful change happens best when we can circle the wagons and get all of our resources working together to facilitate that change.  We know that habits are great – when we can tap into them.  We know social support is key.  That enabling our environment can help (see here for more information on the 6-steps to making change happen)

Routines are also important and we need to become better at making sure that we stick with them and that they become more habit like.  That they are not those actions that we detest, but ones that help satisfy a craving that we have.

Over the next couple of months, I will be focusing on this.  If you have  stories about how you have made routines work for you – please let me know.  I would love to find out what is possible.

Leave a response – I would love to hear from you!



Welcome Ben Granlund!


I am very excited to introduce Ben Granlund as our new Vice President of Communications.  Ben has been working with us as a strategic partner for over 6 years and finally caved to my request that he join us full time.

He brings a wealth of knowledge and skill to our work.  Ben has a background in architecture and design and has worked a wide spectrum of projects both nationally and globally.  Using his design background, he takes a critical look at how we merge design and behavioral science.  He enjoys the challenge of creating custom solutions to the issues that our clients face and seeing those projects come to life.

Ben will primarily be responsible for growing the communication side of our business and ensuring that we are staying cutting edge in the delivery of our behavior based communications.

Ben is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.  He enjoys skiing, mountain biking, traveling as much as possible and spontaneous adventures with his wife.

Please join me in welcoming Ben to the Lantern Group team!


Speaking in Washington, DC and Bismark ND next week

Creative brain idea concept with lightbulb and usb cable - background design

Creative brain idea concept with lightbulb and usb cable – background design

I will be in Washington DC on Thursday, November 12th speaking on change.  The very next day, Friday November 13th I’ll be in Bismark ND doing the same presentation with a slightly different twist.  Two very different locations…but both sessions drawing people from the surrounding areas.

The Washington DC program is for the Capital Chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) while the one on Friday is for the Friends of the Library.

Two very different groups….but both needing to better understand how they can improve their ability to be change agents for themselves and their organizations.

I will be presenting the research I’ve done on what sustains purposeful change.  It is an important topic and one that everyone can use – whether they want to lose weight for themselves or if they want to change how their department works.

I’ve talked about change in some of these blogs here and here and here.

It is also a topic that I’m still learning.  If you have had a time when you have purposefully set out to change something that you do and were successful (or not so successful) – please let me know – I would love to talk to you to find out how you did it or what went wrong.

The Power of Yes

arrow blue

I did this interview almost a year ago and the article is now out.  Give it a read if you like.

The Vail Centre (formerly the Vail Institute) is a great organization that is exploring the boundaries of how people lead and understanding what it takes to make a difference in the world. I am honored to be on their advisory board and working with them on some cool new projects.

FYI – I have a son and a daughter – not two daughters as it states in the article…I’m sure my son would appreciate my clarification on that.


Willpower – is it the key to change?

I’ve been reading a lot of books and articles lately on willpower.  It is incredible the new research on willpower and how we can build our willpower reserves up and how they get worn down.  I am fascinated by the larger impact of this research and the implications that it has on our ability to change.  It is fairly evident that the more willpower one has and that one applies to their change process, the more likely that change will occur.

Read More

Whose job is it to motivate?

I had a client send me an e-mail the other day – with this question – “Whose job is it to motivate?”  Here is the response that I sent her…

“Whose job is it to motivate?

This was an interesting question – one that, at first glance, seemed like it could be quickly answered if I did not spend too much time thinking about it.   So I spent some time thinking on it…and like the proverbial onion, it has many layers.

A quick response would be that it is the manager’s job to motivate.   They are in charge of their team of people and one of the responsibilities that they have is to make sure that their team is doing their job.  You get people to do their job by motivating them.  As a manager, you are likely to be in control of many of the motivational levers that organizations typically use, such as performance ratings, incentive components, special role assignments, recognition and a host of other tools that are designed to help motivate employees.  As a manager, you are often the closest link to the organization that employees have – as such, you are key to ensuring that they know the strategy and vision for the company.

So the job of motivating is the managers….

Except that when you peel away another layer, and ask the question, “can a manager really motivate his or her employees?”  This comes down to a theoretical question about our ability or lack of ability to really motivate another person?  Sure, you can motivate through fear and intimidation, but those are not typically the types of motivational forces that we think of when we think of a manager (outside of the threat of firing).   The question is revolves around the idea of having someone else motivate me or do I need to motivate myself.  You can put all of the rewards and accolades in front of me, but if I choose not to be motivated by that, then is there anything that you can do to motivate me?

Think about this in another way as a hypothetical question – what would motivate you to bring great physical harm to another person?  Would any amount of money sway you to do that?  Would any type of promotion or praise get you to do this?  Probably not.  You would have to have an intrinsic motivation to be able to do this (if even that would suffice for many people).

If we go down this path, then motivation is self-derived and is ultimately the job of the employee…

However, you peel away another layer and look at the role that our environment plays in our behavior and attitudes.  For instance, we know that people eat more when their plate is larger – even if they are not motivated to do so, or more ominously, motivated to not eat more (i.e., on a diet).   It has been shown that the work environment that we are in can have a significant impact on our attitudes and ultimately our performance.  We know that people’s behavior is changed when they are presented with an incentive or reward for doing something.   Studies, as well as our own experience, show that we will work longer, harder and more tenaciously if we know that there will be a luxurious reward as the result of our effort.  This points to the fact that a company’s leadership and the culture, environment, systems and processes that they develop are key to motivation.

Taking that line of thought, it is leadership’s job to motivate…

Except they do not often have an immediate presence or interaction with the employees.  That is relegated to the manager and how those systems, environments and culture are interpreted often relies on their actual practice of them…so we are back to the manager…and to the individual…

Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of all three.  That the job of motivating is everyone’s job.  

This is not a simple matter to say that “motivation” falls within someone’s job description…it is indeed a larger issue that has its roots in so much of what everyone in the company does every day.  We know that employees are complex individuals.  That each of us is driven by different needs and different goals.  The Four Drive Model helps us put those drives into categories, but those drives are still hugely complex in their nature, and that it takes a large amount of effort by the company, managers and individuals to really motivate us to our fullest potential.

Ok – hope I didn’t get too long winded or philosophical and that this was insightful to you…

Let me know if you have further questions.


Kurt Nelson, PhD.”


Employee Engagement and the 4-Drive Model

Much of the work that I’ve done in the past has been on how the 4-Drive Model impacts employee motivation.  The research that we did as well as the work that we implemented, focused mostly on large scale initiatives / programs that helped to satisfy these different drives (sales incentives, contests, recognition programs, award trips, performance management systems, etc..).  Recently, I’ve been asked to develop some workshops, using the 4-Drive Model as the foundation, but that focus on helping managers better engage their employees – at a local level.

Putting these workshops together has been fascinating because it takes the 4-Drive Model to a much more specific place.  Working one-on-one with an employee to help them feel more engaged at work.  Even after 6 years of working with this model, I’ve identified a few new key pieces.

1. We all know that different people have different motivational profiles – but we’ve found that individuals motivational profiles can change very quickly (unlike someone’s personality profile – which changes little over time).  Motivation, we found, is very context dependent.  This is an important aspect when thinking about engagement.

2. Team environments within a larger organization are more important than any large scale initiative.  Again, this is not ground breaking, but it does go to how team cultures are created or destroyed.  One key piece that I’ve recognized, is that one bad-apple, can have an overly large negative effect on overall engagement of the team.  In the past, I would have suggested working with that person to help develop them and coach them to improve – now I recommend that managers get rid of them as quickly as possible once they are recognized.  It sounds harsh, but those individuals can poison the entire team to a point that makes it very hard to recover.

3. Most managers are too busy to focus on engagement.  They have a hard enough time getting all of the work done that they are tasked to do – much less spend time thinking about how they can or should engage their employees.  They often are so busy that they don’t stop to look around at what their employees are doing or saying.  It is important to help them focus a portion of their energy on understanding what makes their team tick.

4. Most managers have not developed the skills and knowledge needed to effectively engage their employees.  Some managers are naturally talented in this, like the sports phenom who at 18 possesses all skills necessary to be at the professional level.  Most managers are on the JV team (if they even make the team).  They need the coaching and time to develop their skills.  Engagement is not hard, it just takes time and effort.  

5. Probably the number one issue that managers have is that they don’t know what to focus on to increase engagement.  Is it purely recognition, is it collaboration, is it tying to the larger purpose, is it compensation?  This is where the 4-Drive Model really helps and can provide some guidance for managers and a way to understand their team.

Let me know your thoughts on this and any examples you’ve seen of good or poor management with regards to engagement.

Thank you!

Change is Hard – So What Did I Do About It?

Today I'm Motivated ToLast week I wrote about how I have not kept up on my own goal of writing a book on achieving goals (i.e., change).


Yes…very ironic.

As mentioned, over the past two years I’ve been researching how people change.  That research indicates that there are six major components that help people achieve purposeful change.

In reviewing my own lapsed change goal of writing five pages a week, I found that I had only leveraged two of those six components.  Doing the math, that means that I was not doing four of the six.  Those were:

1. Writing was not an emotionally driven goal – it was a rational goal

2. I had not established a habit around writing

3. I had not changed my environment to help facilitate my writing

4. I did not have social support network set up to help me

Last week I identified two of those six as easy fixes, one as moderately easy and one as very difficult.  Here is my work to date on those:

My easy fixes (weren’t so easy):

4.  Social support network.  In response to this, I talked to my wife and asked her to help me on this by holding me accountable.  She refused.

Yes, that’s right, she said, “no.” 

Read More

Change is hard (4 ways I defeated my own change process)

Change is hard

Change is hard

For the past two years, in addition to my regular day job, I’ve been researching what it takes for people to make meaningful and purposeful change.

It has been fascinating.

I’ve talked with a number of people about their change journeys.  I’ve read countless books and journal articles on change.  I’ve been introduced to a number of new insights from neuroscience, motivational theory, behavioral economics and habit formation that, when brought together, can have a huge impact on how people can effectively change.   I have identified what I think are six major components that help drive successful change.

I’ve lived this, breathed it, and dreamed it…

And yet…

I’ve not been able to keep my own change habits going.

At the beginning of the year I had set out to write five pages a week on change (not quite a New Years resolution, but very close).  I thought that would be a manageable goal and one that would allow me have enough material for a book on change by the end of the year.

Five pages a week isn’t even a page a day – how hard could that be?

Well it was hard.  Very hard.

Read More

How the internet took me to Malaysia

So on Friday night, around 7:00 PM, I will board a plane and fly for over 20 hours to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to conduct a workshop on Sales Incentive Management for a group of various executives from around southern Asia whom I’ve never met and the only interaction I’ve had with the organizers is via e-mail.


Kaula Lumpur

And no…I did not wire them any money in advance.  In fact, they wired me money.

The saga began back in December 19th when I was busy with a number of other programs.  Going through my e-mail quickly, there was one that almost got put in the trash immediately “Trainer invite for Sale Compensation Management.”  It started out, “Dear Mr. Nelson, Good day to you.  We are pleased to formally invite you, on behalf of UNI Strategic, to be the trainer four our 2 day training on Sales Compensation Management…”   It went on to talk about what they wanted and how they “specialize in the provision of business-to-business intelligence.”  It was signed by Ramesh, Conference Producer.

Yeah – I thought it was spam as well.

Read More

Page 3 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén