Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Why Is Behavior Change So Hard? Science Explains It

Why Is Behavior Change So Hard? Science Explains It

Behavior change is key to achieving any goal or outcome we want. Experts often make this sound so simple, yet for many of us it can feel incredibly hard to accomplish.

Goals like losing weight, boosting health, being more productive, or increasing income all rely on developing new behaviors. We can’t achieve something new by doing what we’ve always done.

The thing is that to develop new habits, we also need to break with problem behaviors. It is said that to break a habit, it takes 21 days, but to sustainably build a new, healthy behavior is a whole different story.

This is where many of us come unstuck. We only have to take a look at the statistics surrounding New Years resolutions to see this. A 2018 study by Columbia University found that 80% of New Year’s resolutions had failed before the end of February.[1]

In the same article, Jennifer Sumner, PHD Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine, states:

“There’s been a lot of work done to help people change their behavior, but we really don’t have many successful interventions to help people maintain those changes over time.”

If it’s got the scientists baffled, what chance do we have?

It seems that most behavioral adjustments are focused on the outer, not the inner. This means a person has a list of dos and don’ts (or pros and cons) and tries to take on the new habitual behavior in the same way everyone else does.

What has been neglected here is that everyone is different. This means not all tactics to change behavior will work for everyone.

However, if you’ve been having difficulty changing certain behaviors, not all is lost, and there is a way. It’s about first understanding how you are different and then making the habit adjustments from there.

Below, you will find several reasons why behavior change can be so difficult.

Advertising

1. Our Past Affects Our Behavioral Choices

Our well-worn habits and behaviors are a result of our past experiences and the decisions we have previously made.[2]

We may have seen, heard, or felt something, and because of this we decided to believe something about ourselves and the world. Some of the most limiting of those beliefs we form between the ages of 0-7.

All beliefs serve us in a positive way to a point. However, eventually when we want to change or evolve, they start to limit us.

This is because our beliefs drive our behavior. If we want to adopt a new habit to drive change, those beliefs start to get in the way[3].

the stages of behavior change

    Our belief system usually drives our behavior from our unconscious mind. This means we are unaware of it and can automatically fall back into the old behavior.

    People have even described this is a feeling of being blocked. They know what they need to do, but they do the opposite instead.

    The easiest example to give here is with weight loss. If you unconsciously believe you are “not good enough,” it may mean you will choose the piece of cake when you go to the fridge instead of a piece of fresh fruit. This supports the belief and keeps you in your comfort zone of health related behaviors.

    Taking this belief into the work environment, you may choose to get lost in social media instead of making those follow-up calls. Again, this helps you avoid potential rejection where that belief may be exposed, keeping you safe.

    The key to change here is consciousness: becoming aware of any limiting beliefs you do have and making a conscious decision to change them.

    2. Our Core Identity Drives Behavior

    There are also those ambiguous things we call core values. These are embedded with a whole range of different beliefs.

    Advertising

    Our values are the things that are important to us. They are our “why” for who we are and what we do.

    A recent study found an important connection between core values and self-control, stating:

    “[I]t is possible that expressing one’s core values facilitates self-control regardless of the construal level at which values are expressed.”[4]

    Furthermore, the study found that affirming core values worked to counteract ego depletion, leading to a more complete sense of self.

    It’s easy to see how this can influence one’s ability to work on successful behavior change. With a higher level of self-control and a more complete view of who you are as a person, your ability to change increases significantly.

    Most of the time, core values operate on an unconscious level, meaning they will affect any decision we make automatically. The above study suggests that making them visible through positive affirmations affects our decisions in a more obvious, positive way.

    Applying this to the weight loss example earlier, imagine you valued a sense of belonging, which led to concerns about being with people who act similarly to you. Having a glass of water out socially with friends might mean you feel like an outsider. Because of this, you choose a glass of wine instead.

    In the work example, maybe you value support, and it’s about being there for people who need you. You want to achieve greater things, but someone needs a hand, and you prioritize their request instead of making those essential calls.

    The key here is having awareness and working on consciousness raising. Remember our values sit in our unconscious, and not many people have a full understanding of them.

    Becoming conscious of your values and the belief system that lies behind them will help you see what needs to change internally. Making those inner adjustments will, in turn, shift your behavior.

    3. You Don’t Know Your “Why”

    Assistant Professor of Psychology Elliot Berkman PhD calls this your “Will.” This isn’t so much about willpower, but he refers to it as “the motivation and emotional aspects of behavior change.”[5]

    Advertising

    It’s about understanding your “why” for change and why specifically it’s important to you.

    Because a friend has done it, you think it might be a good idea for you, too. Or you think it’s something you should do or need to do. Perhaps you are even doing it because someone else wants you to or has asked you to.

    Doing it for someone else can cause what I call the see-saw, stop, and start effect. You start off motivated, and then you lose interest and stop. You see their disappointment, and then you start again.

    If you haven’t personally connected to your “why,” your motivation will quickly fizzle out, and you will sabotage your attempts at success.

    Knowing why you personally want the change and why it’s important to you here and now will fire you up. This is about connecting your desire for change to your values so you can emotionally connect to it.

    4. You Walk the Path of Least Resistance

    Clinical psychologist Dr. Soph focuses on making neuroscience simple and easily understood. She refers to walking the path of least resistance as “homeostasis,” which is keeping things the same. It’s about staying within our comfort zone, where we feel safe and secure and where we can get by without using a lot of energy.

    She explains:

    “When your brain is repeating a habit (the feeling of ‘running on autopilot’) it doesn’t need to use much energy because it doesn’t have to engage the prefrontal cortex.”[6]

    She likens this process to creating a new path in a field. It will always be easier to walk over a path that is already well-worn from use. Starting a new path in a field of tall grass is much more uncomfortable and requires significantly more motivation and energy. Most will naturally choose the well-worn path.

    It is the same with any change, and for those of us with a preference for sameness, it will feel hard to make those new connections.

    This is probably where the rule of 21 days comes in, although 90 days may be more realistic if we’re talking about long-term, sustainable change. During those three months our unconscious mind keeps trying to revert us back to the old neural connections because it feels easier.

    Advertising

    It’s kind of like a sled on the top of a snow slope. The track that the sled has used numerous times will be much deeper and solid. The sled is steady in that track. Wearing in a new track will take time, and the sled will try to veer back to the old one until the snow becomes bedded down.

    Again, conscious awareness is key. Remind yourself that you are in the process of embedding the new neural connection. Be aware of when you try to revert back to the old track and steer yourself away again.

    5. We Are Wired to Mirror Others

    Another reason we might find behavior change so hard is that we are naturally hard wired to imitate. This is because of a small circuit of cells in the brain called mirror neurons.

    Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni explains,

    “The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to “simulate” the intentions and emotions associated with those actions.”[7]

    This may help to explain why we often get in our own way. While trying to fit in with a specific social group through imitation, our brains may lose focus on specific changes we want to make to be different.

    These neurons are ultimately key to socialization. In fact, these are the neurons that help us build our social skills. They are the exact same neurons that lead a baby to smile when we smile.

    If we have a closer circle of friends or loved ones who have habits that can derail our change, we are likely to revert back. That’s why if we attempt to give up smoking, and our partner still smokes, it can be really hard to stay committed.

    Conscious awareness of this is essential. If you want to sustainably achieve change, surround yourself with like-minded people as much as possible.

    Final Thoughts

    Behavior change isn’t hard; it just isn’t easy when it’s attempted without the awareness of neuroscience.

    Give yourself a break and notice the improvements you do make step by step. Be flexible as you go and learn from your mistakes.

    By becoming aware of how you are different and adjusting your strategies to fit, the changes will stick. Eventually, you will notice how automatic the new habits have become.

    More Tips on Behavior Change

    Featured photo credit: John-Mark Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Deb Johnstone

    Deb is a professional mindset speaker and a transformational life, business and career coach. Specialising in NLP and dynamic mindset.

    How to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis (The Complete Guide) How to Learn Patience to Get Your Thoughts and Feelings Under Control 9 Self Limiting Beliefs That Are Holding You Back from Success How to Make a Plan And Reach Your Goals in Life How to Write a Good SMART Goal Statement

    Trending in Habit

    1 We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why? 2 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 3 How to Reprogram Your Brain Like a Computer And Hack Your Habits 4 How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in 2 Months 5 What Is a Routine? 9 Ways to Define a Routine That Works

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 6, 2021

    14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

    14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

    Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

    In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

    For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

    For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

    Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

    Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

    Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

    How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

    Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

    1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

    Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

    For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

    2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

    Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

    Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

    Advertising

    Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

    3. Create a System

    Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

    This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

    You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

    Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

    Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

    4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

    We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

    If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

    Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

    Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

    5. Use a Ratings Scale

    Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

    Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

    Advertising

    It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

    6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

    This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

    You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

    You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

    7. Offer Feedback Forms

    Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

    First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

    Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

    You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    8. Track Cost Effectiveness

    This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

    Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

    Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

    9. Use Self-Evaluations

    Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

    Advertising

    Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

    10. Monitor Time Management

    This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

    Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

      The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

      While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

      11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

      We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

      Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

      For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

      Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

      Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

      From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

      12. Utilize Peer Feedback

      This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

      Advertising

      Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

      Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

      It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

      13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

      When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

      Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

      Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

      14. Use an External Evaluator

      Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

      They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

      While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

      Final Thoughts

      These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

      The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

      The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

      More Productivity Tips

      Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

      Reference

      Read Next