Two years ago, my wife was looking for a new type of Journaling experience. She wanted something beyond just blank pages, something that could help guide her thoughts and prompt new ideas.
She went online in search of it and found an elegantly designed journal with millions of sales and thousands of positive reviews. She ordered it and started using it every day. The opening pages were filled with insightful explanations into the power of gratitude, the power of journaling, and much more.
She was excited. She dove in and used it daily.
But after a few weeks I noticed it was sitting in a corner, no longer being used. Although she really enjoyed it at first, her journaling went from daily to intermittent to none. I asked her what had changed, and she said, “it’s always the same, it was great at first, but I can’t answer the same three questions every day forever”.
Back in September, I partnered with Tim Houlihan to start “a monthly gathering of curious minds” which we called Behavioral Grooves. We thought it would be interesting to get like-minded people together to talk about applying behavioral science to life and work.
We had no idea if others would be interested in this…
We announced the meetup and were hoping to get at least a few of the friends that we had contacted to show up. We ended up with 24 people for that first session where we talked about habits – how they are formed and what people can do to improve them.
We were thrilled!
From there, it took off. We have over 180 members signed up to our meetup group and it is growing fast. We have had three monthly sessions as of early January 2018 and our fourth is lined up for two weeks from today. We have over 20 people who have made it to two or more of the sessions.
I guess we struck a nerve.
For our second session, we invited Professor James Heyman to speak and thought, hey, since he’s here, why don’t we interview him and make a podcast out of it. Thus, our Behavioral Grooves podcast was born. Tim and I both loved that so much that we decided that we didn’t want to wait for the next Behavioral Grooves session to record our next one – so we started to invite people and interview them – both live and over the internet.
To date, we have seven interviews recorded and three more in the works. These podcasts mirror the Behavioral Grooves sessions in that they are conversational in nature where we geek out over behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science insights into our daily work and lives.
They have been a blast!
In reflecting on this, it appears to me that these two outlets provide us with a way of both learning and sharing. We want to be advocates for good, ethical use of behavioral science. We believe that there is much to learn and we can improve our work and lives by understanding and by applying these principles in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.
We also realized that we love the community that this is creating. A community of curious minds who are interested in science and the application of that science. A community of people that we can bounce ideas off of. A community of people that can push us to think about things from new perspectives.
This is ultimately what we have been building and hope that it grows and provides a place and outlet for others, as well as ourselves.
If you are ever in Minneapolis on the third Thursday of the month – please come and join us at our meetup (find out more info here) and if you can’t make that, please listen in to our podcasts (click here to find the latest).
In 1925, four climbers, led by Phil Smith, ventured north from Colorado to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to attempt to climb “The Grand Teton” mountain in the Teton Range.* The Grand had been summited before, but these four climbers were coming at it from a different route, one that had not yet been explored. From the valley floor of Jackson Hole it looked like they would have a relatively straight ascent to the peak.
The four climbers set out with high expectations of being the first to chart this new route. As they progressed up the mountain, it looked like they were getting closer and closer to the summit. One can imagine their feeling that this goal was within easy reach. That is until they came up to the top of what they thought was a ridge. To their dismay, instead of it being another ridge, it was the peak of an entirely different mountain. The Grand was almost a mile away with a sheer 450-foot drop to the saddle between the peaks. The four, not wanting to give up, attempted to rappel down the face of the cliff. They realized that it was too hard and too dangerous, so they gave up and headed back to Jackson Hole.
Before they left, they named this new summit point, Disappointment Peak.
It is not only climbers who run into disappointment peaks. We often fall victim to this same dismay when we realize that the goal that we had set out to achieve is harder, will take longer, requires more resources or effort than we first envisioned.
Often, we too give up.
The four mountaineers had fallen victim to an optical illusion of the Grand. When standing in the Jackson Hole valley if you look directly at the mountain, it seems as if Disappointment Peak is just part of the Grand. The two peaks appear to be one and the same (see image).
One of the elements of successful change is being able to anticipate how you are going to achieve that change. We like to plot out the steps that we need to make in order to reach our goal.
The problem comes in when we encounter our own mental illusions – when we think that the goal is much closer or easier than it really is.
One thing that both psychology and behavioral economics have shown us is that as humans, we are really good at self-deception. We have a number of innate biases that affect our belief formation and influence our thinking – from confirmation biases, base rate fallacies, availability heuristics, gambler’s fallacies, control illusion, and my favorite, the Dunning-Kruger effect (The tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability).
Generally, we are overconfident in our abilities and underappreciate the difficulty that is required to achieve change.
These mental illusions set us up.
When our expectations of what this goal is going to cost us in terms of time, effort, energy, and resources does not match with reality and when we realize the summit is much further away than we thought – we become disappointed as well.
We are doing great on our diet and losing weight weekly until we hit that plateau and can’t seem to lose those last 15 pounds.
The first three chapters of the book flowed smoothly, but we now are encountering writers block and can’t even complete the first paragraph of the fourth chapter.
We stopped smoking for five weeks until that project at work stressed us out and we needed something to calm our nerves.
We had achieved our goal of making ten cold calls a day for the two weeks but felt dejected that we had not had one sale from those encounters.
Moreover, just like Phil Smith and his companions, we can see the peak in the distance, but can’t seem to rappel down that cliff that is between us and the summit.
Three things to do when you reach your disappointment peak
We cannot always find a way to keep trekking on and reach our goals, but here are a few things to try:
Step back and look for new routes.
Over the years we have conducted a team building event called the electronic maze (see 5 lessons from the maze). Envision a giant chess board comprised of 54 squares, where some squares beep and others do not, and teams are trying to get from one side to the other stepping only on non-beeping squares.
At one point in their journey through the maze, people tend to get stuck and keep running into beeping squares as they move forward to the other side. The path goes backward here – but EVERY TEAM we have ever worked with has repeatedly stepped on one or more of the “beeping” squares that are in front of them. Even after repeated failed attempts stepping on the same beeping squares over and over, they cannot fathom that if they just take a step backward, they will ultimately move forward.
Sometimes we just need to look around and see if there is a different path to our goal.
Find new tools/knowledge.
Do you have the right equipment to overcome your obstacles? Phil and his team attempted to rappel down the cliff and felt it too dangerous. Today, many climbers specifically go to climb and rappel down that very cliff. The equipment and knowledge that people have today are much better than what they had 90 years ago. Are there new or different tools that you could use to overcome your road block? Would additional knowledge help you in continuing your journey?
Push on through.
Sometimes we just have to grit our teeth and power on through. As Dory says, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” There are many times when we reach a point of dismay and our mental energy and enthusiasm collapse because it is going to be longer or harder than we thought.
If the goal is important, then sometimes the best solution is to continue to trudge on. We can think of this as applying Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” (NASA.com) Our movement towards the goal has stopped, so we need to apply an unbalanced force upon it to get it moving again.
Plan ahead for obstacles.
Just because our mental illusions often trick us, does not mean that we will always be fooled by them. Before beginning our journey, we can carefully map out the process and try to visualize what potential roadblocks we could encounter. That process helps prepare us for when we do run into an issue. In other words, we have primed ourselves and our expectations so that dismay will not fully knock us off our course. Specifically, we should be asking ourselves:
What might happen that could derail the journey
What are external forces that could impact this process
What are internal forces that could affect this process
If we run into one of these obstacles, how will we approach it (“If ________ happens, then we will do __________.”)
We should also tap into our social networks and see if other people we know gone through this process or attempted this change. These people can be our mentors and help work through with us some of the unforeseen obstacles that we had not thought about. Their experience and knowledge can not only help identify potential barriers and how to overcome them but also might point us on a route that avoids those obstacles altogether.
Reexamine your goal.
Lastly, reexamine your goal. Is it worth the effort, time and trouble that it will now take you to achieve? If it is, keep going for it. But don’t just blindly go on just because you started. Climbers too often focus on reaching the summit at peril to their own lives. Ed Viesturs, renowned mountaineer and bestselling author who’s summited Everest seven times says, “I’ve always had this motto that climbing has to be a round trip. I’ve always understood that getting off the mountain was more important than getting to the top…It’s OK. It’s not a failure…If you’re rushing, if you’re thinking it has to happen today, then you’re going to make bad decisions.” (Time.com) Sometimes it is ok to stop and say, not today. I’ll try this some other time when conditions are better, or I’m in a better spot.
*A common mistake is for people to call the Teton Range “The Grand Tetons.” The Grand Teton is a single mountain while the mountain range’s proper name is “the Tetons” or “the Teton range.”
**Thanks to Michael Anschel for introducing me to the story of Disappointment Peak.
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.
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.
When your behaviors and self-perception don’t match it creates a sense of cognitive dissonance – a pull to change something to get the image and perception back in 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.
Last week I wrote about how I have not kept up on my own goal of writing a book on achieving goals (i.e., change).
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.
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…
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?
We are looking for input from people like you to answer some questions on how you were able to change something in your life or set out and achieve a goal. We want to understand how you were able to lose weight, get a promotion, start a new hobby, eat healthier, change a bad habit, start a new positive habit, complete a project, etc…). We are trying to uncover the underlying factors that help people purposefully changed a behavior or attitude. This research will be used as input to a model of change that we are developing as well as possible inclusion in a book we are writing on the subject. In the comment section, please share the following:
1) What did you purposefully set out to change or achieve?
2) What was your motivation that drove you to that do this (was their a specific trigger or was it something that you had focused on for a long time)?
3) What were the key actions that you took to achieve that change or result?
4) Did you change things in your environment to achieve this (i.e., move the treadmill into the bedroom or hang a progress chart on the wall)
5) Did you tell people (or a single person) what you were trying to do?
6) Did you set milestones to your goal?
7) Did you measure your progress against those milestones?
8) What was the hardest part about the process?
9) What was the most important part of your change journey?
10) What tips would you give for someone else who is trying to change this aspect of their life?
This blog has been kind of quiet lately – partly on purpose and partly because life is busy.
The on-purpose part of being quiet was brought on by a post I read by Derek Sivers blog (http://sivers.org/boring) on whether it is better to focus, entertain or both? The underlying message being that we sometimes put out content to just put out content, when instead we should be focusing and developing our ideas and build a “path to mastery.” It is a great conundrum that we all face…as Derek says, “you’ve got a conflict: What’s best for you is to shut up, sit down, and focus. What’s best for them [audience]… is for you to be entertaining.”
That being said, I’ve been working on developing a few concepts that build off of what we’ve done in the past, but reflect a new approach for us. This required me to shut up, sit down and focus.
As readers of this blog know, we have concentrated on improving employee motivation at an organizational level for years. We put a lot of stock into understanding the research out there on this topic and not just repeat the same old ideas. For instance, outside of the original researchers, we have probably done more work on the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation than anyone in the country (see here, here, here, here and here for just a sample of our thoughts on this). We think that this motivational theory offers companies new ways of looking at their reward and recognition framework that is refreshing and helps drive motivation in exciting ways. We used this and other research (mostly insights from behavioral economics and psychology) to help organizations set up reward and recognition systems that tap into these insights and improve employee motivation and engagement. We’ve done exciting work with a number of large and small companies helping them do this.
What we hadn’t done is focus on what individuals could do to improve their own motivation.
We had not explored how individuals, such as yourself, keep on task and stay motivated to achieve your goals? How can we leverage the new research that is out there to help us stay motivated everyday.
So we are shutting up, sitting down, and focusing on that.
And it is fascinating.
Recent work by researchers on habit formation, willpower, and individual change have shed light on a number concrete steps that we, as individuals can do, to help keep us motivated and on task. We have taken the first strides in building a process that melds together all this research into a few main concepts that can be framework for a personal motivation plan. Our initial work has led us to develop a five step process, that we think will not only help people to ignite their own motivation, but also to build ways to maintain that motivation for the long run. These five steps are:
1) Find your motivational flow
2) Recalibrate your habit triggers
3) Enable your daily environment
4) Socialize your motivational strategy
5) Track your goal progress
Each step has both research and real actions behind it.
We are still working on this and are looking for collaborators to help refine the process and test our assumptions. The idea is to create a workshop and support materials that can be piloted. In the near future, we will be testing the model and piloting the process with a few people. If you want to be part of that group, let us know (leave a comment below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will put you on the list and you can be one of the first to try it out.
This means that while theory is nice, what is really important is what happens in real life.
Most of the time when clients hire us, they hire us because we can impact the bottom line through changing the behavior of their employees. Most of them don’t care about the theory behind that change no matter how wonderful it is (e.g., The Four Drive Theory of Employee Motivation) – what they want is results.
Which gets me to the point of this post – if we are really about changing behavior, why do we care about motivation?
Think about it – motivation in and of itself does not change anything. You can be motivated and pumped up and rearing to go and still not accomplish anything. I’ve been motivated for years to loose weight – yet up until a few months ago, I haven’t done anything about it. In their book, “Change Anything” Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler (the guys from Vital Smart who wrote Crucial Conversations and Influencer) talk about how motivation is just one aspect that is required to achieve personal change. Indeed, they talk about the fact that if all we have is motivation, no matter how much it is, we are most likely headed for failure.
To drive change we also need to have the skills, tools and knowledge necessary to achieve that change. We need to have a social network that supports us in our change efforts and isn’t trying (actively or passively) to derail that change. We also need an environment that helps us and doesn’t hinder us. In other words, motivation by itself is not enough.
Motivation is vital to this whole equation. It is the impetus to get us off our butts and start doing something. It is the pressure that is applied to us throughout the change process – the pressure to continue and not quit when it gets tough. It is the internal drive and fortitude to keep going and keep pushing oneself. Without motivation, no change would happen.
And that my friends, is the reason that motivation is important.
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