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Published on May 21, 2020

Why Behavior Change Is Hard? Science Explains It

Why Behavior Change Is 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 an old one.

It is said that to break a habit, it takes 21 days. But to sustainably build a new 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 Colombia 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.”

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

Even stranger is that some of us are able to sustain behavioral change and form healthy long-term habits whereas others aren’t.

It seems that most behavioral adjustments are focused on the outer, not the inner. This means a person has a list of do’s and don’ts and tries to take on the new habits in the same way everyone else does.

What has been neglected here is that everyone is different. There are no two people exactly the same. 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.

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

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.

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. We do this even if we don’t want to.

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.

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.

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

They are at the center of who we believe we are and have been with us for most, if not all, of our life. We identify with our values, and they become powerful behavioral drivers.

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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.”[3]

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 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.

Absolutely everyone has different values; there are no two people who value exactly the same things. This obviously also explains why behavior change sticks with some people and not with others.

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. 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 sits 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.”[4]

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

So many people try to change habits without really understanding why it is so important to them personally.

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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 have to 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 all 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.

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.

This will make your behavioral adjustments last long-term.

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.”[5]

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 (remember we are all different), 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.

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.

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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 behaviour 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.”[6]

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.

Explaining this phenomenon with those closest to you and asking for their support will also help.

Final Thoughts

Behaviour 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.

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, there are a lot of similarities, and because of this, they’re often misused and misinterpreted, both in daily use and application.

Every business should look for new ways to improve employee effectiveness and efficiency to save time and energy in the long term. Just because a company or employee has one, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other is equally present.

Utilizing both an effective and efficient methodology in nearly any capacity of work and life will yield high levels of productivity, while a lack of it will lead to a lack of positive results.

Before we discuss the various nuances between the word effective and efficient and how they factor into productivity, let’s break things down with a definition of their terms.

Effective vs Efficient

Effective is defined as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Meanwhile, the word “efficient ” is defined as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”[1]

A rather simple way of explaining the differences between the two would be to consider a light bulb. Say that your porch light burned out and you decided that you wanted to replace the incandescent light bulb outside with an LED one. Either light bulb would be effective in accomplishing the goal of providing you with light at night, but the LED one would use less energy and therefore be the more efficient choice.

Now, if you incorrectly set a timer for the light, and it was turned on throughout the entire day, then you would be wasting energy. While the bulb is still performing the task of creating light in an efficient manner, it’s on during the wrong time of day and therefore not effective.

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The effective way is focused on accomplishing the goal, while the efficient method is focused on the best way of accomplishing the goal.

Whether we’re talking about a method, employee, or business, the subject in question can be either effective or efficient, or, in rare instances, they can be both.

When it comes to effective vs efficient, the goal of achieving maximum productivity is going to be a combination where the subject is effective and as efficient as possible in doing so.

Effectiveness in Success and Productivity

Being effective vs efficient is all about doing something that brings about the desired intent or effect[2]. If a pest control company is hired to rid a building’s infestation, and they employ “method A” and successfully completed the job, they’ve been effective at achieving the task.

The task was performed correctly, to the extent that the pest control company did what they were hired to do. As for how efficient “method A” was in completing the task, that’s another story.

If the pest control company took longer than expected to complete the job and used more resources than needed, then their efficiency in completing the task wasn’t particularly good. The client may feel that even though the job was completed, the value in the service wasn’t up to par.

When assessing the effectiveness of any business strategy, it’s wise to ask certain questions before moving forward:

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  • Has a target solution to the problem been identified?
  • What is the ideal response time for achieving the goal?
  • Does the cost balance out with the benefit?

Looking at these questions, a leader should ask to what extent a method, tool, or resource meets the above criteria and achieve the desired effect. If the subject in question doesn’t hit any of these marks, then productivity will likely suffer.

Efficiency in Success and Productivity

Efficiency is going to account for the resources and materials used in relation to the value of achieving the desired effect. Money, people, inventory, and (perhaps most importantly) time, all factor into the equation.

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, efficiency can be measured in numerous ways[3]. In general, the business that uses fewer materials or that is able to save time is going to be more efficient and have an advantage over the competition. This is assuming that they’re also effective, of course.

Consider a sales team for example. Let’s say that a company’s sales team is tasked with making 100 calls a week and that the members of that team are hitting their goal each week without any struggle.

The members on the sales team are effective in hitting their goal. However, the question of efficiency comes into play when management looks at how many of those calls turn into solid connections and closed deals.

If less than 10 percent of those calls generate a connection, the productivity is relatively low because the efficiency is not adequately balancing out with the effect. Management can either keep the same strategy or take a new approach.

Perhaps they break up their sales team with certain members handling different parts of the sales process, or they explore a better way of connecting with their customers through a communications company.

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The goal is ultimately going to be finding the right balance, where they’re being efficient with the resources they have to maximize their sales goals without stretching themselves too thin. Finding this balance is often easier said than done, but it’s incredibly important for any business that is going to thrive.

Combining Efficiency and Effectiveness to Maximize Productivity

Being effective vs efficient works best if both are pulled together for the best results.

If a business is ineffective in accomplishing its overall goal, and the customer doesn’t feel that the service is equated with the cost, then efficiency becomes largely irrelevant. The business may be speedy and use minimal resources, but they struggle to be effective. This may put them at risk of going under.

It’s for this reason that it’s best to shoot for being effective first, and then work on bringing efficiency into practice.

Improving productivity starts with taking the initiative to look at how effective a company, employee, or method is through performance reviews. Leaders should make a point to regularly examine performance at all levels on a whole, and take into account the results that are being generated.

Businesses and employees often succumb to inefficiency because they don’t look for a better way, or they lack the proper tools to be effective in the most efficient manner possible.

Similar to improving a manager or employee’s level of effectiveness, regularly measuring the resources needed to obtain the desired effect will ensure that efficiency is being accounted for. This involves everything from keeping track of inventory and expenses, to how communication is handled within an organization.

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By putting in place a baseline value for key metrics and checking them once changes have been made, a company will have a much better idea of the results they’re generating.

It’s no doubt a step-by-step process. By making concentrated efforts, weakness can be identified and rectified sooner rather than later when the damage is already done.

Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between being effective vs efficient is key when it comes to maximizing productivity. It’s simply working smart so that the intended results are achieved in the best way possible. Finding the optimal balance should be the ultimate goal for employees and businesses:

  • Take the steps that result in meeting the solution.
  • Review the process and figure out how to do it better.
  • Repeat the process with what has been learned in a more efficient manner.

And just like that, effective and efficient productivity is maximized.

More on How to Improve Productivity

Featured photo credit: Tim van der Kuip via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: effective and efficient
[2] Mind Tools: Being Effective at Work
[3] Inc.: 8 Things Really Efficient People Do

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