Are your New Year Resolutions Really Worth the Effort? Research Says…. Reply

calvin-and-hobbes-resolutionsBeing the first full week of January, I am guessing many of us are making some effort to act on good intentions and follow through with our new year resolution(s).  But, can we really change? Can we build new habits?

To begin answering this question, I turned to Science of Us and found some interesting articles.  First, let’s look at personality.  As we try to change, can our personality change?  Here is what Science of Us wrote.

[William] James is the groundbreaking Harvard psychologist whose 1890 text The Principles of Psychology is thought to be the first time modern psychology observed the idea that personality settles down, or stabilizes, in adulthood. “In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again,” reads one of its most quoted lines.

In the century since James wrote these words, a bulk of empirical evidence has proven him right — to a point. As Little likes to phrase it, it’s more like our personalities are “half-plastered” by the time we enter our fourth decade: Yes, much of the way we behave is influenced by our core personality traits, which, research has shown, have a rather strong genetic component and therefore are pretty stable throughout our lives. And most research, not to mention common sense, suggests that though we change a lot in adolescence and our early twenties, these changes slow down once we enter adulthood But, Little argues, we can also choose to act against our natures. Our basic personality traits don’t really change. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change and behave in ways that are opposite to our true selves, when the situation calls for it.

via How Much Can You Really Change After 30? — Science of Us.

OK, so the core of our personality does not really change, but we can manage our behaviors and even build new habits that may seem in some ways counter to our personality.  So, how hard is it to build these new habits?  Once again, over to Science of Us.

In the spirit of the “New Year, New You” season, here is a gentle reminder about habit formation as it applies to resolutions: Contrary to the colloquial wisdom and despite what certain apps and books would have you believe, it does not really take 21 days to form a new habit. So that shiny new behavior you’re trying to adopt — eating breakfast every morning, going to the gym after work, or whatever — probably won’t have really set in by the 21st of January, and there’s no need to despair if it hasn’t. Instead, at least according to one interesting piece of recent research (which, by the way, I’ve written about before), it could be tough going until March: It takes 66 days, on average, to form a new habit.

Incidentally, the health behavior that was toughest for people to do automatically was exercise; that’s not entirely surprising, as it’s a more complex action than drinking water with a meal. Overall, these findings are a reminder to be a little patient with yourself if sticking to your New Year’s resolution is feeling a little harder than you initially thought it would.

via Your Resolution Won’t Become a Habit Till March — Science of Us.

So, it’s going to take a little discipline.  My resolution has a lot to do with running, and that will not be as easy as going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night.  But on the bright side, at least the research suggests that such is possible if I can be disciplined and stick with it.

3 Myths About People and Change Reply

The greatest barrier to change is common sense.

I stumbled across this video on change which was pretty good.  While the context of this talk is societal change, the principles seem quite applicable to many walks of life.  So what are the 3 myths?  You can watch the full video below, but here is a teaser.

1.  Education alone will not bring about change.

2.  You need to change attitudes in order to change behavior.

3.  Watch the video…

Communicators Beware: Why Do People Make Bad Choices (part 2)? Reply

Creating awareness is sometimes overrated.

That was the point of part 1 of this series posted earlier this week.  When there is little or no awareness, efforts aimed at raising that awareness in a target audience can be helpful.  But a point of diminishing returns quickly emerges and, beyond that point, further awareness-raising efforts either produce little to no change in people’s behaviors or worse can actually increase instances of the undesired behavior.

changeWhat are communicators to do if they cannot simply rely on their favorite hashtag or easy, preachy messages?

Now that is a much harder question.  Digging into the research we see several models that explain a process.  An example would be Kurt Lewin’s theory of change that goes like this.


A good start, but still it does not explain what is the source of the change.  This is a useful but purely chronological process.

The Science of Us article, Awareness is Overrated, moves us closer by pointing to identity as a source of change.  The process is called motivational interviewing.  By using an OARS questioning technique (open-ended questions, affirmation, reflective listening and summaries), we can discover what roles are important to an individual.  Be it father, manager, husband, or neighbor, we all have roles that are central to our identity and a source of motivation to achieve and change.

Motivational coaching helps people find motivation in their identity and then use this to promote change.  In other words, how we see ourselves in interpersonal relationships that are important to us then serves as a potential source of motivation.

Another key source of change can be social norms.  What we think is the norm can be a powerful source of boundary setting and helping people decide what is appropriate or not.   Through the use of trusted or credible community leaders, some change efforts have succeeded at resetting community norms to change behaviors such as bullying in school.

The described approach is in theory very similar to tipping point leadership where kingpins with outsized influenced are used to lead new initiatives.  By drawing on their network and status as accepted leaders, these kingpins become the agents through which change is rolled out in an organization.  Credibility and status are used as a means of influence.

Finally, some work around Theory of Change suggests to me that one of the key methods for bringing about change is to use system 2 thinking (the brain’s analytical mode) to help people plot a thoughtful and well-designed path forward with a change initiative.  In my mind, this implies that to some degree change does not happen because there does not appear a clear and effective path forward.

Upon some reflection, we can see that efforts to bring about change must “attack the roots of people’s behaviors in sophisticated ways.”  If that is the case, then why do we still display an over-reliance on raising awareness?

In terms of mental investment, people usually look for ways to make a minimum investment.  “Awareness-raising….is easier and more straightforward [than deeper methods just described], and this can help explain why it’s so prevalent despite the dearth of empirical evidence it works.”  This is what the NY Magazine article called cognitive miserliness.

There is nothing wrong with raising awareness.  And in a social media age, the ease of counting hashtag responses and retweets can make awareness raising perhaps appear more important than it really is.  Certainly it feels good to be seen as on the right side of an issue.

But if having a real impact is important, then perhaps we might begin rethinking our approach to communications.  A more sophisticated of why people continue to make bad choices could lead us down a productive path.