My series Change Management Tactics based on the article, The Hot Spotters, by Atul Gawande (The New Yorker, January 24, 2011 edition), assumes managers guide the process. Greger Wikstand (more), a Capgemini consultant, asked about best way to try new behaviors on his own.
Greger points out, “In the heat of the moment I keep forgetting to try.” A change of behavior often includes a change of thinking. Our minds though don’t always catch up to our intentions especially when confronting engrained habits within time constraints.
When we fail to change, we often overlook two things when we try new behaviors:
- Setting realistic expectations
- Breaking change into small steps
Studies of work, exercise or diets generally indicate it takes two to four weeks to make a behavioral change a new habit. Our bodies usually need three weeks to adapt to new environments. Change doesn’t happen overnight. We shouldn’t expect it.
We also tend to “bite off more than we can chew.” Often there are five to ten smaller changes required to make our intended change. For example, writing things down on a task list facilitates change. Simply writing, “If _____ happens, I will do _____,” helps. However, if we’re not normally doing that, it’s change too.
Combining realistic expectations with small steps, we avoid “all or nothing” attitudes. We want progress. For example, in the heat of the moment, we forget. We lost. Here’s the better question: In the last ten opportunities, how many times were we successful? Twenty percent is far better than the prior state of zero percent. It’s progress.
Another perspective asks: If we didn’t perform the change, did we realize that shortly thereafter? Raising awareness is change. It’s also another small step. How many times over the last ten opportunities were we immediately aware afterwards that we missed an opportunity?
Yes, this means documenting and measuring. When the change becomes habit, we can stop measuring. Feeling progress though encourages change. We won’t see progress if we’re not looking for it. If we don’t see progress, we won’t continue to try new behaviors.
In short, the best way to try new behaviors is to make it a game. Winning is progress.
Part 2 of Best Way to Try New Behaviors dives into a daily approach. It supplements the expectations and strategy covered here.