If you have any interest in behavior change whatsoever, the research I’m going to share in this article will be very valuable to you.
In fact, I believe this to be so important, I decided to attach a bonus video of yours truly. This way, if facts don’t get you excited maybe I will (you know what I mean).
Anyway, let’s get started. First of all, the very first thing you must come to realize is that you must become an “expert at establishing attitudes”. Not software. Not instruction. Not “lifestyle”. Not how to sell widgets or whatever. Now, of course, other skills are important and you must learn about them, but, the first and the most important thing you must learn is psychology.
And it’s easy. You see, social psychologist Timothy Wilson has already done the grunt work for you with his book―Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change.
And, since I’m so excited about Wilson’s research, I’m condensing his 288 page book into this simple article and video. Ha!
Just keep reading.
O.K., here’s my idea: What if you took Wilson’s psychology research and did the following:
Incorporate it into your work!
You know what? Malcolm Gladwell did. With his New York Times bestseller, Blink. From the man himself:
In Blink, I probably owe a bigger intellectual debt to Tim Wilson (and his longtime collaborator, Jonathan Schooler) than anyone else . . . .
- Malcolm Gladwell
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to ride that Timothy Wilson gravy train too.
So, let’s get to how Wilson’s research in human behavior will have you making a lasting impact on people’s lives.
Whetting your appetite
As I was saying, Wilson put together a family of techniques that can nudge the way a person thinks and feels.
Why is this important? Simple. These techniques help people who are struggling—bad behavior, bad performance, bad attitudes—find a new, better path.
Professor Wilson calls this “story editing”.
You can call it “opportunity”.
Think about it. You can use your training to encourage people to edit their personal stories in ways that lead to long term changes in behavior and well-being. Wow!
Now you have practical data on how to change a person’s self-perception. And, in my opinion, this is more important than getting someone to recall facts or follow procedures.
I think most people would agree, self-perception is the difference between ‘C’ players and ‘A’ players.
In other words, this is about dramatic change.
Want proof? Here are, I believe, great reasons you should consider social psychology research:
Reason #1 – it reduced the achievement gap in American middle schools.
Reason #2 – it increased enrollment in high school science classes.
Reason #3 – it reduced drinking on college campuses.
Reason #4 – and it reduced adolescent violence.
Not bad, eh?
Just imagine if your training was able to achieve such radical change. It sure would grab the attention of potential clients more than fancy graphics, wouldn’t it?
On a side note, just to clear the air, you aren’t obligated to apply this to fix social ills. Bonus if you do.
Know this: Wilson’s research WILL benefit your audience.
It did for Gladwell.
Enter the dark arts
Question: Are you changing attitudes or dispensing information?
The truth is, most of us just don’t care about changing attitudes… unless, of course… that change affects us personally or business-wise.
What do I mean by attitude? Hey, I’m glad you asked.
O.K., by attitude I mean: confidence, self-control, persistence, thoughtfulness, responsibility, etc.
In other words, attitudes are what a person expresses based on their self-perception. And, in my experience, this is where I’m told adding “attitude change” (as part of training goals) is too ambitious to consider.
But listen, your goal to nudge someone’s self-perception exists nonetheless―you’re hoping for it. Right?
So, why don’t more teachers, trainers, and coaches focus on what makes the most impact? Actually, there are two reasons:
1. They don’t know how to make someone think or feel a certain way (especially in the long term).
2. And secondly, they don’t know how to measure changes in self-perception.
Do you need voodoo magic for this?
Basketballs, 20 Percent Time, and Aristotle
Phil Jackson won 13 NBA Championships. Two as a player, and eleven as a coach.
I think it’s safe to say a person with a record like that knows what they’re doing.
Now, get this: As a coach, Jackson was known to give book assignments to his team. Every season he would hand out a range of deep, meaningful, and sometimes emotional novels to his players.
Google has something in place called “20 percent time”. This time is for engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in their job descriptions. They can use this time to develop something new, or if they see something that’s broken, use the time to fix it.
Is that the whole story?
Now, before I answer these questions, you first need to go back in time. Roughly, 2,400 years.
Aristotle suggested people can change their self-perception by first changing their behavior, “…we become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlling by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.”
Ok, let’s get back to the future.
Today, social psychologist Timothy Wilson explains this as, “Do Good, Be Good”.
In other words, people’s behavior shapes the personal narratives they develop. If they act kindly toward others, they begin to see themselves as having kind dispositions, and the more they view themselves as kind, the more likely they are to help others—thereby strengthening their new narrative.
- Excerpted from Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change
Well, what do you think is the difference between the attitude of someone who reads books, and someone who doesn’t?
According to Outliers: The Story of Success, the difference is quite significant—at least worth mentioning.
In my opinion, Jackson’s goal was this: through book assignments, he was “coaching” his players attitudes towards success (off the court).
Think about it. Jackson wouldn’t be satisfied with men who were just great basketball players. (Maybe that’s where other coaches go wrong?)
By expecting book reading from his players, Jackson was explicitly reinforcing an attitude he wanted.
So, do you think Jackson’s book assignments nudged the player’s self-perception?
Taking off the rose-colored Google glasses
Which brings us to Google. What’s going on there?
Simply this: Google wants to nurture their ‘A’ players.
And, for a person to feel they are an ‘A’ player, they need to be in an environment that encourages ‘A’ player behaviors. Namely: thinking.
As you know, most employers are stuck in an industrial revolution mindset (time is spent assembling widgets and following procedures). That leads to: no time to think.
You see, the ‘A’ players (the innovators) throughout history are known to use their time to think. Darwin in his study, Jobs on his long walks… it’s also said the genius of Newton and Einstein came about because they simply took the time to let their minds wander.
Remember how The Do Good, Be Good approach involves changing people’s behavior first. Well, in the case of Google, this behavior change is getting employees to stop working—and start thinking.
It’s do good not read good
Believe me, behavior change is where it’s at!
Check this out: A recent study wanted to redirect the narratives of teen girls who were at risk of getting pregnant. And, what the researchers did was have the girls participate in volunteer and community work.
Why not hand these girls sex education pamphlets?
The answer is simple: The researchers engaged the girls in activities that would get them to change their personal narratives—be engaged and act responsible.
Did the study pay off? You bet it did. Hard evidence showed a change in behavior a year later. Girls in the program were significantly less likely to get pregnant, and also showed positive academic effects.
Anyway, social psychology clearly shows you don’t change self-perception by asking for it.
Phil Jackson could have said to his players, “Do something positive in your free time.”
Google could say to new hires, “Read the Steve Jobs biography… then be that guy.”
But, as you know, objective circumstances matter.
As a side note: there’s more to it than that. For example, implementing activities designed to change behavior should be done as interventions along with disciplined reflection.
So, is the main point of this article clear? It is. Good.
Let’s go on.
But now, let’s get to the core of behavior change. I’m going to show you how you can apply social psychology (Do good, be good) to your coaching, training, or e-learning—in 3 easy steps.
Anyway, I’m going use coach Jackson as my example.
Now, let’s assume empathy is the attitude Jackson feels makes for a balanced player and a winning team. I think that’s probably true.
So, the question is: How does Jackson observe empathy?
Well, as a coach, Jackson can foster activities that reinforce THAT attitude.
Did you know further psychological research says reading a story prompts helping another person. Was Jackson’s book assignments purposely creating championship-type teamwork? Hmn, maybe?
Anyway, let’s deconstruct the psychological warfare in Jackson’s locker room:
1) Identify the activity—So, Jackson has identified the activity that reinforces the attitude he wants from his team: reading.
2) Reflect on the activity—Jackson reinforces a player’s personal narrative based on the activity. Remember: Jackson considered these “book assignments”. So, I doubt he gave a book to a player without ever following up.
3) Acknowledge the goal—Players need to know what’s in it for them (the benefits of participating). So, Jackson makes clear the benefits of adopting the attitude he desires, and the fact that reading reinforces it.
So, if you want to change attitudes (in a positive way), I can sum up this deconstruction in three words…
Identify, Reflect, Acknowledge!
Just do good
Read this article two or three times. There’s a lot here for those of you ready to take it to the next level.
Now, before you go off and begin changing attitudes—for the better—I have a few things I want you to do:
1. Sign up to the newsletter if you haven’t already done so. There’s more great stuff coming.
2. In the comments, tell me where you see yourself deconstructing Do Good Be Good. Are you already doing this yourself?
3. Do you see other examples where this is being applied?
P.S. If you have a friend who is a fan of psychology, please email this article to them. I’d love as much feedback as possible.
P.P.S. This was a long one. Thanks for reading. Phew!