Behavior change is a tricky business. Knowing that we should (or want to) change our behavior is completely different from actually making a change—I know that I can’t be the only one who’s thought “I need to start eating better” in the morning, and then ordered a pizza in the evening.
Consultants and coaches need to be armed with the tools required to help their clients change their behavior in a meaningful way—no one brings in a consultant because they want things to stay the same. However, some of your clients may be resistant to the very changes that they bring you on to help them achieve. This is due, in part, to the way that our brains function.
Our recent research on The Science of Behavior Change highlights some of the challenges of achieving sustained changes to behavior, and provides insight into how to get the best results.
Our brains aren’t wired particularly well for navigating change—a perceived threat shuts down analytic thinking in favor of survival functions, changing a well established routine takes a lot of processing energy, and unmet expectations trigger a response that is similar to physical pain. By arming yourself with research about how our brains function, you can work to mitigate these responses, and pave the way for successful behavior change.
We’ve created this infographic summarizing our research on the science of behavior change. Keep it handy as a resource to help you navigate your client interactions, or pass it along to the leaders in your client organizations who are working toward sustainable behavior change with their teams.
Click the image below to download a PDF version.
As I was researching this topic, one of the most surprising things I learned was about the difference between trust and distrust in our brains. Distrust lives in the animal brain—when we don’t trust someone, we are constantly on guard, and ready to fight or flee at any moment. Trust, on the other hand, lives in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in making connections, analytic thinking, and problem solving.
If you’re struggling with a particular client or leader who is resistant to changing their behavior, or who is struggling to guide their teams through a change, I suggest you look first to the degree of trust in each relationship. Does your client trust you to deliver results? Do the teams you work with trust each other? Working to develop trusting relationships —which allow individuals to function at their highest levels of analytic thinking—will go a long way to achieving the results you desire.
Change is hard, but not impossible. By working to develop trust, lessen the perception of threats, minimize unmet expectations, and tackling changing one routine at a time, you can help your clients and their teams shift their behavior to be more productive, collaborative, and innovative.