Need To Make A Change? Address These 3 Components.

If you’re unhappy with the way things are in your business or personal life, AND if you have come to recognize the fact that your results are the product of your actions, then you are probably ready to make some changes.

But how do you make those changes?

We often hear or read a quote that reminds us of our need to change. But sometimes it’s easier said than done, and we need a little more “how to” than that. Having a better understanding of what makes us tick can help us make those changes in ourselves, our situations, and even others, more effectively.

I’m reading a fascinating book entitled Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I highly recommend it.

In it, the authors show that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern we can use to make the changes in the areas that matter to us, big or little. They argue that the leader of the change has to engage these three components at once. So let’s find out what those three components of change are, shall we?

In the book the three key components are symbolized to help us picture the relationship between them.

1. Emotions  – An Elephant

2. Rationale – Its Rider

3. Environment or Situation – The Path

The Situation, or The Path

The Heath brothers pointed out that there are easy changes and hard changes. Sometimes we have an easy change to make–just a little tweak that needs to take place, but we overcomplicate it and treat it like a hard change, such as convincing people to think differently.  What looks like a people problem is often just a situation problem.  Here’s an example:

The Popcorn Study

IMG_1323They reference a study that was done in 2000, where moviegoers were given free containers of very stale popcorn when they entered the theater. There were two sizes of containers:  Big and Huge. Each person was given one of these two sizes, neither of which could be finished by one person.

The researchers wanted to know if someone with a huge supply of popcorn would eat more than someone with a smaller, but still large supply. They also made sure to eliminate the reason to eat for pleasure–that’s why they made sure the popcorn was several days old (some folks later complained, saying it was like eating foam packing peanuts).

The results were stunning: People with the huge buckets of horrible popcorn ate 53% more than the people with the big buckets of horrible popcorn.

The studies were done all over the country, in different states at different times with different types of movies playing, but the results were always the same.

People eat more when you give them a bigger container. Period.

You might be tempted to think that if we educate, people will make the change. “Educate people on the dangers of eating too much; show them the data so they’ll change their behavior.”  That’s a hard change.

But sometimes the change comes simply by tweaking the situation. If we want people to eat less, the solution is pretty simple: Give them smaller portions or smaller containers and they’ll eat less regardless of their knowledge or health attitudes. What looks like a deep-rooted people problem is sometimes just a simple situation problem— a matter of shaping the Path.

Rationale and Emotion  (Rider and Elephant)

But situation isn’t everything. In order to change our behavior we need to go beyond environment. We need to change our mind. The problem is, our brain has two separate and often opposing mindsets…the planner and the doer…the rational side and the emotional side.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls the emotional side The Elephant. The rational side is the Rider.

If we look at the rider sitting pretty atop the elephant, we know that he’s the leader telling that big powerful animal which way to go.

But what happens when the elephant and the rider disagree on which way to go?  The rider is going to lose because he’s no match for the power of that 6-ton elephant!

You’ve recognized this if you’ve ever planned a diet and then tossed the ice cream and the cookies just before starting it. That was your rational side planning ahead because you knew that once that emotional side of your brain got a craving it was going to be next to impossible to control it.

Both the elephant and the rider have their weaknesses and their strengths.

The elephant’s weaknesses are that it can be lazy, likes to be comfortable, and wants instant gratification. They stand in sharp contrast to some of the rider’s strengths: the ability to plan ahead and look beyond the moment at the possible results and consequences of actions.

What you might find surprising is that the elephant has some wonderful strengths that can offset the rider’s crippling weaknesses. Love, sympathy, loyalty and anger are just some of the elephant emotions and instincts that give us the strength to move and take action when the rider’s weaknesses cause us to overanalyze and overthink things so that we spin our wheels and get nothing accomplished.

If we want to change things we need to appeal to both because if we reach only the elephant, we’ll have passion without direction…

Have you ever gone to a conference where the focus for your business was mainly on the motivational aspect of it? It was great while you were there in that environment, but what happened when you got home? Maybe you were all fired up for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, but you didn’t get any instruction and knowledge to put that motivation to good use. And that’s why there was no change. We need to have clear direction along with the motivation.

If we appeal only to the rider, we’ll have understanding without motivation.

Many years ago, I worked with a very smart and funny gentleman that happened to be a chain smoker, the kind of cigarettes with no filter.  His wife and kids hated it, and he knew very well the dangers of smoking with all of its ill side effects, but it was never enough to make him WANT to quit.

One day, he came in to the office and announced he had decided to stop smoking. What happened? What caused the sudden change–another piece of data? Nope.

His young son came home from school with a photo he had seen in a science book of the difference between a healthy set of lungs and a smoker’s lungs. The healthy lungs were pink and plump looking. The other set belonged to a smoker who had died of lung cancer. Those lungs were black and shriveled. Ewww!

His son showed it to him and said, “Look Dad, this is what your lungs look like.” With tears in his eyes he said, “I don’t want you to die, Daddy!” That was the emotional motivation he needed to add to his rationale, and the last I heard, John was still smoke-free!

There is a whole lot more that goes into the psychology of change, but now you have a pretty good glimpse and a guide to help when you need to change behavior.  Engage these three components and you’ll be well on your way to successful change

  • Motivate the Elephant. Discipline and determination can be hard and exhausting work. But if we engage our emotional side, we’ll have the elephant’s power and cooperation to help us achieve the change instead of fighting against it.
  • Direct the Rider. We need clear direction. Sometimes what looks like resistance is just lack of clarity and purpose.
  • Shape the Path. When we tweak the environment or situation and shape the path, we can make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant.

Did you find this post at all helpful? Let me know what you think by commenting below. Also please be sure to share this with others through your social media of choice.


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Sandra Rodriguez

Homeschooling MOMPRENEUR sharing business tips for stay home (and want-to-be stay home) moms & dads as well as newbie marketers. I Love Jesus, my family, life, laughing, coffee and the occasional glass of wine. Come learn and hang out with me!

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