Behavior change isn’t easy. Changing habits isn’t easy, either. Especially when life happens and derails the best laid plans, a common reason for failed behavioral change.
So, what can you actually do to change behavior?
Define Your Behavioral Baseline and Goals
First, take a look at the behavior you’ve chosen. Did you clearly define what the change will look like? Developing new habits requires you to first consider your behavioral goals. What is it really going to look like when you have developed that new habit? Similarly, you should ask yourself “what is the behavioral baseline I am starting from?”.
Adjust Your Timeframe
Developing new behaviors takes time. Once you know your behavioral baseline and goals, you should ask yourself, “did I choose a realistic timeframe to make this change happen?”. What does it actually take to get from where you are today to where you want to go? When you place unrealistic time and progress expectations on yourself, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Look for Support
We also know that it’s much easier to stay the course on a behavior change goal if you have accountability partners to remind you of your goals and progress and to help remove barriers along the way. Think about who might be in the best position to be that partner for you, whether you are tackling behavior change in your personal life or at work.
While there is obviously more to setting yourself up for successful behavior change, the points above provide good starting points.
Leverage Behavioral Nudges
How then do you get positive behavior started or keep it going? One thing to consider is the concept of a “behavioral nudge,” or a simple change in your environment intended to lead to a change in behavior. You have the option to refuse to act on the nudge. There is also no special extra incentive for acting on the nudge. But if you leverage behavioral nudges the right way, you’ll get more of the behavior change you are looking for.
For example, in some countries, as soon as you get a driver’s license, you are automatically added to the organ donor list. Why? If people don’t opt-in and are instead asked to sign up to be an organ donor, most people usually don’t get around to that extra step. This is the case even if they feel comfortable with the idea of being an organ donor and understand the tremendous benefit of donation. On the other hand, we know that if people need to take an extra step to opt-out, they likely won’t do that either (but they could).
Sounds simple, right? So, how does the idea of a behavioral nudge help you with your behavior change?
Think of ways you can set yourself up to engage in the new behavior more readily. For example, let’s say your goal is to provide more frequent pinpointed, positive feedback to your direct reports because you’ve gotten feedback that they want and need more. But, there’s a reason you don’t give it much attention - it’s something that tends to end up on the bottom of your priorities list or you simply don’t think about it. So, what if you nudge your behavior by setting a calendar reminder in your Outlook that pops up first thing when you arrive in the office. This reminder might say “Today’s goal- provide pinpointed positive feedback to at least 3 people - current status: 0/3” (depending your goal). While you can still opt-out of providing that feedback, chances are the reminder is going to have some positive impact- that it will nudge you in the right behavioral direction.
Think of a behavioral nudge as a small change in the environment that prompts you to do something, while making it harder for you to choose the opt-out answer. Ultimately, nudges are just the beginning. You also need to find ways to sustain the behavior change over time. What will your behavioral nudge be? Find it and try it out today!