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How to Change a Habit With the Four Quadrants of Change

How to Change a Habit With the Four Quadrants of Change
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Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

The Four Quadrants of Change

There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

The four quadrants are:

  1. Internal individual – mindset
  2. External individual – behavior
  3. Internal collective – culture/support system
  4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

First Quadrant — Internal Individual

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.

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Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
I want to swim = I am a swimmer

This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

Second Quadrant — External Individual

This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]

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Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

Negative Environmental Design

This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

Positive Environmental Design

This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.

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The Inner Ring

These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

The Outer Ring

The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

The same rules apply to companies.

One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).

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Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.

Leave

You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.

Persevere

This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.

Neglect

This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.

Voice

This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

Putting It All Together

When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

  1. Internal individual — mindset
  2. External individual — behavior
  3. Internal collective — culture/support system
  4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.

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Read More on Making Changes

Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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