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Each of us has a unique self-identity that both drives what we do and is influenced by what we do. If we were able to hack into our self-identity, to leverage this influence, it would help provide one of the emotional drivers of change that we require.
As I’ve stated before, for most people, purposeful change needs to have an emotional foundation for it to be sustainable (see here, here). The challenge we face is the fact that tapping into our emotions is very difficult and often a random process, thus making purposeful change harder.
Since our self-identity is innately tied to our emotional core, being able to use our self-identity to help motivate behavior change could be very powerful.
We often think of our self-identity as one cohesive overriding concept of who we are.
That’s a misconception.
Psychologists tend to think of people’s self-identity as being made up of a number of smaller self-schemas that are combined together. These different schemas dominate our personality at different times depending on the circumstance, social group or environment that we find yourself in. For instance, you might be the strong forceful decision maker when in family situations, but in social situations outside of the family, you might think of yourself as more of a follower.
One way to think about self-schemas is to imagine that they are miniature mind-maps that guide how we think of ourselves in a given situation. This map helps us envision how we should behave and think.
This map is the lens of how we see ourselves fitting into and responding to the world. It prescribes what we expect our actions and thoughts to be in that specific situation.
This identity lens also colors our world. It can have a strong influence on what we see, what we feel, and what we experience. It also impacts how we interpret and how we respond to what we see/feel/experience.
We have beliefs or self-schemas about whether we are fun or boring, outgoing or shy, combative or peaceful, brave or cowardly, and these schemas shape what we pay attention to, how we encode the information we receive, and what information we retrieve based on the situation (Wheeler, Petty, Bizer, 2005).
In this sense, schemas reflect our core values of who we are and how we fit in the world.
Horowitz (1998) describes it as follows: “Self-schemas include scripts, future intentions and expectations about self-realization, and core values. These self-schemas function as cognitive maps; simplifying details into attitudes…”
Schemas are also temporal in nature which means that we can think of ourselves as behaving and thinking differently based on the timeframe we imagine ourselves in – i.e., whether we are thinking of ourselves in the past, present or future tense.
Therefore, we can visualize our future self as being different than what we are today. Sometimes this future self is labelled our “possible self” or our “ideal self” which is appropriate. The temporal nature of our self-schemas play an important role in how we plan out our lives and make choices for the future.
Schemas and change
So how does this impact our self-change initiatives?
First, we can think about how well our behaviors match with the schemas we hold of ourselves. If our behaviors fit with that vision of who we are, those behaviors are “congruent”; if they do not align with that vision, they are “incongruent.”
For instance, if I think of myself as “a walker”, I will have a stronger motivational pull to choose to walk when I have an option between walking or driving (or other mode of transportation). Walking would be congruent with my vision of myself. However, if I find myself sitting on the couch, vegging out in front of the T.V., that would be an incongruent behavior that would exert a sense of cognitive angst at not living up to my self-schema and would push me to get up and go for a walk around the block. The more congruent the new change behavior is, the stronger the motivational pull to engage in that behavior. Conversely, the more incongruent the behavior, the stronger the pull is to stop that behavior in order to get back in alignment.
This is the self-regulation part of schemas and it works for however we envision ourselves.
Driving home from a wedding on January 2nd 2016, my wife was looking at her Facebook feed on her iPhone and made a little exclamation, “Wow!”
Of course that made me curious, so I said, “what was that for?”
“An old colleague of mine just posted that she walked 10,000 steps every single day last year.” she stated.
Now I was really curious, “Can you get me an interview with her!”
Fast forward a month and half and I sat down with Janelle at a coffee shop on the campus of the University of Minnesota where she worked. For the next 60+ minutes I was enthralled listening to her story and asking a ton of questions.
“How did you do it?” “What was your motivation?” “How were you supported?” “What was the hardest part?” “Why?” “What insight can you give to people who want to achieve something like this?”
Some facts first:
Total steps in 2015: 6,456,950 (that is 6 million, 456 thousand, nine hundred and fifty) totalling 2,818 miles walked.
May 2015 was her most active month with an average of 21,388 steps per day and her most active single day of 80,606 steps.
Dang – that’s impressive!
February 2015 was her least active month with an average of 14,190 steps and her single lowest step count on any day was 10,016 (just 16 steps over her goal) on January 16th, 2015.
See more stats at http://www.nivens.me/blog/2015-fitbit-stats
How Janelle did it
I wanted to know how Janelle did it.
Walking 10,000 steps everyday is not easy nor is it a task that you can do by just forming a new walking habit.
It takes concentrated effort and dedication. It requires that you have an emotional commitment to achieving your goal. It takes support from friends and family and sometimes even strangers. It takes coming up with hacks to motivation to keep that fire going all year long.
In my interview, I wanted to find out if Janelle employed any of the six actions that I’ve identified as being key to successful change (see here) and (here). When I asked her about how she did it, she used all six to some extent: Engaging her emotions, Plotting her progress, socializing her support, harnessing her habits, enabling her environment, and preparing her plan to overcome obstacles.
Janelle engaged her emotions.
One of the key concepts from the change work that we’ve done, is that purposeful change is more likely to succeed if you actively engage your emotions.
Rational change, we found, is not sustainable. However, emotions are hard to consciously activate.
We’ve found that one way to hack into those emotions, is to align your change with your self-identity. If you can align your change behaviors with who you perceive yourself to be, then your behaviors become easier, and when you behave in ways not aligned with that self-perception, you feel angst to come back into alignment.
Within the first five minutes of the interview, without prompting, Janelle stated, she identified herself as a “walker”. She talked about how she always liked to walk, how she walked with her mother when she was younger, that when she walked, she felt better. In her mind, she identified who she was as a “walker” and that implied that she behaved in certain ways (walk instead of drive when possible, take the stairs – not the elevator, etc…).
By identifying herself as a walker, she was emotionally invested in those behaviors. It made it easier to do them and harder to not do them. Here is a picture from her Facebook page (Minnesotan’s will recognize the famous Walker Art Museum):
Janelle plotted her progress.
Plotting ones progress towards a goal is important. Research has shown that progress, no matter how small or insignificant, provides humans with great satisfaction. We know from behavioral economics that the closer you get to a goal, the more motivated you are to achieve it (see here).
Of course Janelle had her fitbit to track her steps…but that wasn’t all – she had her calendar. Janelle had gone online and bought a special full year calendar (from Europe), had it shipped over and framed. This was hung in her home office where she saw it every day.
Each day that she walked 10,000 steps, she added a sticker to that calendar. Different colors represented different step counts. Yellow was 10K, blue was 15K, and red was 20K.
One interesting side note, was the amount of stickers she had actually added to her motivation. Here is how she describes it:
“In November and December I gained some motivation by the fact that I was running out of yellows and eventually blues. So, I had to walk more to get to the 20K level (red).”
She also set up motivational milestones. She created a “walk wish-list” of different places or walks that she wanted to do. She posted these to her Facebook page (adding a social element that we will talk about later). When she achieved these walks, she was able to check them off her wish list.
Additionally, Janelle joined a fitbit group (again, we will talk more about the social aspect of this in a bit) that had different walking challenges. Fitbit calls these challenges, “a fun way to help you stay motivated by competing with friends and family.” These mini-challenges helped provide ongoing ways to measure her progress.
Her fitbit group also had a leaderboard that showed her daily steps compared to those in the group. This was a way to track her progress not only against her goal, but as part of a fun competition against others.
Janelle socialized her support.
When she decided to commit to her 10,000 steps a day for a year challenge, she purposely posted her decision on her Facebook page. She told me that she did this to create accountability. By publicly stating her intentions, she enlisted her Facebook friends to become part of her social support team and keep her on task.
We often feel more pressure to do things for other people than we do for ourselves. I call this “other focused motivation.” For some people, this motivation is much stronger than the motivation that they have to complete things for themselves.
Please join us in welcoming Tim Holdgrafer to The Lantern Group team. Tim joined the team last month as our sales director in the Midwest region. He will be responsible for managing all of our new sales for our Motivation, Team and Workshop solutions.
He brings over 20 years of experience in delivering financial services and business solutions to a wide range of clients from large multinational companies to local start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Tim has a passion for driving change within an organization.
Additionally, Tim is an experienced facilitator having worked with The Lantern Group since 2014 helping deliver some of our most exciting and challenging team building programs.
Tim earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management and is a long suffering Gopher football fan. In his spare time he enjoys staying active through running, softball, golf and playing hockey every sunday night. He uses his team building and leadership experience to help his coaching of youth soccer and hockey in Minneapolis as well as being the Cubmaster for over 90 young boys. When he has some downtime, he also enjoys reading and researching genealogy. Tim is married and has three fantastic boys.
Please give a big welcome to Tim!
As 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!
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!
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.
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.