Making Change Is Not a Matter of Willpower  

14 November 2018:

We like to think that making change is a question of mind over matter, that we — and the people with whom we work — are masters of our actions. We decide to make a change, we commit to it, and we follow through.

On an organizational level, the standard leadership approach to creating change is to whip up enthusiasm for a new process or initiative by explaining why the change is so important, promote the change throughout the company with posters and slogans and social media, and, once everyone is singing from the same song sheet, wait for the change to fall into place.

But on the ground, we know transformation rarely goes this smoothly. And research can help us understand why. In her new work, USC psychology professor Wendy Wood, currently a visiting chair at INSEAD-Sorbonne in Paris, has found that the process of change is more complicated than was previously realized. Creating change, she says, depends more on uncovering and changing habits than we have known. Wood has studied behavior change for three decades with a focus on habits, including those affecting diet and exercise, productivity, financial savings, and consumer purchases. The full results of her work are set to be published in 2019 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Trying to effect change while ignoring the key role that habits play in our lives often fails, says Wood. This is because we are not consciously aware of everything we do, including our habits. In fact, Wood’s research shows that 43 percent of our daily actions are based on habit, enacted repeatedly in the same situation, while we are thinking about something else. It’s an automatic, mindless response to the world around us.

Trying to effect change while ignoring the key role that habits play in our lives often fails, says Wood.

“Habits are automated, outside of conscious awareness,” Wood told me. “They are part of a slow-to-change part of our neural systems involving the basal ganglia” (the section of the brain associated with control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, emotion, and routine behaviors). “Once we learn habits, the memory trace — an experience encoded in the brain as memory — persists long after we make a decision to do something different, and so we continue with the old habits, and that will ultimately sabotage the change we desire. Don’t expect people to know how to change their habits.”

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Source: Strategy-Business

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