01 Jan Want To Change Behavior? You Must Start With Beliefs
New Years’ resolutions are notoriously doomed from the start. Statistics vary on the topic, but we can probably all agree that the percentage of resolutions that stick is dismally small. So, what are we doing wrong? It would seem that, collectively, we are plenty capable, resourceful, and intelligent to be able to follow through on a resolution more often than not. But the data, and our own experiences, would indicate otherwise.
Perhaps, the answer lies in the very definition of a resolution: a decision to do or not to do something. “To do or not to do something” indicates that the focus is on the behavior itself. Regular exercise is widely reported as the most common New Years’ resolution. Staying on track and implementing a consistent workout regiment into you life is hard work and is certain to cause discomfort and stress. Beliefs drive behavior. Therefore, success requires that you focus not on the behavior, which is the exercise itself, but on the belief behind the behavior. Why do you want to exercise more? It could be that you want to improve your health so that you will live longer, that you want to lose weight so that you feel better about the way you look, or both. In order to succeed, you must have the following core beliefs:
- Exercising will improve your health.
- Improving your health will cause you to live longer.
- Exercising will cause you to lose weight.
- Moving closer to your ideal weight will lead to increased self esteem.
Most people would agree that they believe all of these statements. They are generally considered facts and have data to back them up. But in order to change your behavior, you must also believe that the time spent exercising will benefit you more than spending that time elsewhere, that the discomfort and stress will be worth the benefit, AND that your are capable of success. This may mean ridding yourself of certain self-defeating beliefs about yourself.
Beliefs at Work
Beliefs are internal feelings about truths. They are often not supported by facts or data and can even be irrational at times. Most of our beliefs are developed in childhood without our knowledge and stay with us throughout our lives.
Even at work, we tend to make our external world fit our personal beliefs. Two people in the exact same experience may have very different perceptions of the experience because they are each taking external information and laying it on top of their own belief system. Suppose there is a big team meeting scheduled with a very specific purpose and agenda. When it is time for the meeting to begin, the leader realizes that there are several team members who haven’t arrived yet and the leader decides to wait for them to arrive before starting the meeting, causing the meeting to run over. One person who values teamwork above all else may take the fact that the meeting started 15 minutes late and, therefore, ran 15 minutes over and view that through the lens that everyone has a valuable contribution and that sacrificing the 15 minutes was worth it. Someone else who believes that there is never enough time in the day may feel slighted and robbed of the valuable times. Same situation and facts, two entirely different experiences based on individual beliefs. Beliefs are powerful!
How can we apply this information to help us increase workplace happiness by being better employees and leaders? Employee behavior has been proven to drive organizational results. When you see behavior in yourself or employees that you would like to improve, try focusing on the beliefs behind the behavior rather than the behavior itself. And while you can’t change someone’s else’s beliefs, you can certainly influence them.
Changing Your Own Beliefs
From time to time, we identify behaviors in ourselves that we would like to change. For example, if you have a habit of micromanaging employees that you would like to overcome, the first step is to identify the beliefs that are driving the behavior. Just keep asking yourself why until you get to the root of the belief. You may find that you have a core belief that you can’t rely on others. This core belief may have been instilled in you though a childhood event and may have been unknowingly perpetuated your entire life. So, how can you change that core belief so that you can get the behavior modification you are looking for?
- Challenge the belief with data. Intentionally cast doubt on your belief. If you have a negative belief that you aren’t attractive, start by finding opposing references. Work on discrediting the belief by recalling times when you received compliments or remembering the feeling that you had in a time when you did feel attractive. Use logic to debug the belief.
- Look at life through a new lens. When it comes to your belief, try to find a new perspective. Changing your point of view may be all you need to ignite a paradigm shift that dissolves the belief and replace it with a new one.
- Change your vocabulary. There are few absolutes in life, so take words like “always”, “never”, “can’t”, and “impossible” out of your vocabulary.
- Seek out others who have the beliefs that you want. You can do this by reading articles, books, and blogs, striking up a relationship on social media, or hanging out with them in ‘real’ life. Just identify people whose beliefs you would like to emulate and learn from them in any way that you can. Eventually, with an open mind, you will convince your subconscious, the holder of core beliefs, that there is a better way to do things.
Influencing Others to Change Beliefs
We should all foster success for those around us at work. Small steps can help others eliminate destructive beliefs and, therefore, modify unproductive behavior.
- Help them identify their own beliefs. Leaders should already be having regular conversations with employees. In those conversations, listen intently to what behaviors employees want to change, and help them get to the root of the behavior by asking them why. After all, identifying the beliefs driving the behavior is half the battle.
- Offer opposing references. A person may hold a belief just because they haven’t been offered evidence to the contrary. Respectfully offer information that may encourage the individual to challenge their belief.
- Help them reframe their belief. Reframing is the process of taking information that was previously available and encouraging someone to see it from a different perspective.
Behaviors are manifestations of our beliefs. In order to change behavior for good, you must identify and modify the belief behind the behavior. Understanding where beliefs come from, that they don’t have to be blindly accepted as reality, and that they can be changed is a giant leap towards ridding yourself of unproductive behaviors at work. So, go ahead, shed those limiting beliefs and become the best version of yourself at work.