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STEPLADDER TO A DREAM

STEPLADDER TO A DREAM

I am reading a fascinating new book, STICK WITH IT:  A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life – For Good.  It’s by Sean Young, the director of the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior and the UC Institute for Prediction Technology.

For over 15 years, Young and his team have been working on finding ways to help people change their behavior and make those changes last.

In his work and in the book, Young puts together a framework that describes what he calls the “seven forces of lasting change.”  He lays out how you can use each of these forces to develop an effective, unique-to-you way of walking that will lead to the changes you want to see in yourself.

The acronym he uses is S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (mostly, he says, because he wants people to remember that the existence of the forces he’s talking about are actually based on “thousands of validated, peer-reviewed, scientific studies.”)

If all of these forces are used together, Young says, then you will have a much better chance of persisting in the new behaviors that you evolve as you work on making the changes that you want to make in your life.

You might be able to actually keep that New Year’s resolution you make every year that always falls apart three weeks later.

banana-chocolate-sundae
“Banana-chocolate sundae” by Rian Lemmer via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE SEVEN FORCES OF BEHAVIORAL CHANGE

  1. People are more likely to change when they can focus on small steps, studies have shown.  However, the small steps do have to be the right kind of small.  Sometimes your “small” may actually be really big.  Young calls the model he developed from this data “stepladders.”
  2. The people with whom you interact are a powerful force when it comes to effecting behavior changes.  Young helps you understand why this is so and gives strategies for harnessing the power.
  3. People change behaviors when the end result they get and the actions they make are important to them.  Young explains what makes something “important” to a person and what that word actually means in real life and how you can use it to foster your own stick-to-itiveness.
  4. Changing your behavior is more likely to happen if the change is easy to do and easy to keep doing.  Young shows you how to build a structure that will make it so.
  5. Young teaches you mind-games – a set of mental shortcuts – that help you reset your brain so you can make the kinds of changes that last.
  6. You have to make any behavior change “captivating” enough so that you will keep doing it.  You have a capacity for getting addicted to all kinds of things. Young gives tips about using that capability for your own good.
  7. Your brain also has the ability to develop auto-pilot moves that don’t require constant applications of strong willpower or steadfast thinking, thinking, thinking.  Young shows you the mechanics of making something routine.

For each of these forces, Young tells you the science behind the concept.  Then he gives examples of how you can use the concept in your life and apply it in your work or business.

Each one is cumulative.  You do one thing, add on another thing, and then another and another and, together, all the moves you make becomes a kind of synergy.

Each force is a part of a process, he says, and it sounds like the process is sort of like a perpetual motion machine, with each part feeding energy to all the other parts.

Every move you make builds on the other ones until one day you look up and you notice that you’ve become more of what you’ve wanted to be.  It sure does sound like a good thing to me.

ladders-to-reach
“ladders to reach” by thefuturistics via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

TAKING THE ONE SMALL STEP

Over the years, the author developed a thing he calls “Stepladders.”  This way of thinking and the process that Young lays out starts from the age-old advice every change-seeker gets: “Just take one small step.”

How many times have you been told that the way to reach a dream is to slice and dice the parts of your walk towards your dream into little bits and then to make goals with deadlines and to set your intention and keep your will strong while you take incremental small steps towards each goal until you kill it?

stairway-to-heaven
“stepladder to heaven” at Kuhstall (Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Saxon Switzerland) by Ralf Schulze via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
That thing’s endless.  To get to the pot of “goals” at the end of that rainbow you are dreaming about, it seems you are fated to keep chunking that dream on down and doing an inexorable walk á la Godzilla.

It works.  It’s real.  Everybody who is anybody did it and keeps doing it.  Uh-huh.  You, however, have been through that drill, usually with less-than-perfect success.

Example.  You really wish that you could lose that extra 15 pounds that have crept up on you after a whole bunch of hearty living.

You are determined.  You’re going to go all in and destroy that weight.  You’re going to get it done in a month, you say, so you can look all svelte and gorgeous for the big do with all of your old friends.  Uh-huh.

Even the healing after you get all the excess fat sucked out is going to take longer than a month, girl, you are told.  Not only that, it hurts big time.  You are not going to be feeling gorgeous much for a while.

You understand, and maybe even accept, that losing all of the weight you don’t like isn’t going to happen in a month.  (Rats!  The dream of you in that dress-to-die-for withers.)

Never mind.  Get started at least.  Okay, so you go looking for the one small step.

Yup, yup, yup.  In your head, you agree with all the varied and various advice-givers in the books and magazines and blogs and vlogs and whatever else who regurgitate checklists and round-ups of stuff you can do to get rid of your extra avoirdupois.

How about getting up out of your chair and going out the door?  We’re not even talking about getting your buns into a gym here.  Just going for a walk around the block or maybe even walking up and down some stairs.  Right!  Boring!  Not going to happen for very long.

If your automatic reaction to just reading about the “small step” is whining, moaning and feeling put-upon, how long is your change campaign going to last?

The future doesn’t look so bright as, yet again, you fail to take the one small step just for you. (Never mind about the one small step for Humankind.)

SMALL IS RELATIVE

Young says one of the problems with that small-step advice may be one of definition.  What, exactly, is a “small” step?

He points out that when you devise a plan of action, it’s a given that the size of the steps you plan to take depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

Most people, when asked to write a list of steps to accomplish something will usually make a plan consisting of three to ten steps.  It doesn’t matter what size the goal is.

Now, let’s say you are focused on a long-term dream, like setting up a food truck business by the end of the year.  Your cousin, on the other hand, is trying to plan a dinner party in the next two weeks.

According to Young, you may both have the same number of steps on your to-do list, but your ten steps are going to be a heck of a lot bigger and harder to accomplish than his.

Because your dream is bigger than your cousin’s goal, even though the steps are similar (decide on a location, plan a menu, buy the food, prepare the food, and so on), the scale of the time, cost, and execution involved in these elements are going to be very different.

the-large-and-the-small-of-it
“the large and the small of it” by Roger Smith via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
In light of our tendency to make really short how-to-do lists and to miscalculate how big our “small” steps might actually be, it is no wonder that people can get really frustrated when they focus exclusively on their dreams and then cannot understand why the results they want to see are not happening very quickly.

The whole point of achieving goals is to get the bennies that come from doing them and making it all good.  You do all that stuff so that you can celebrate at the end.

The celebration re-focuses you on doing the whole megillah over again on another project, and another, and another….

Woo-hoo!

THE STEPLADDER MODEL

Young’s solution to this dilemma is to re-define the time it takes to work dreams, goals and steps.

According to Young, dreams are plans that you have never achieved before that typically takes more than three months to accomplish.  Reaching for a dream fuels your efforts to learn and try new things and helps generate the energy and motivation to stick with and persevere in your plans.

Dreams are bigger than goals.  Sometimes they are so big that it can feel like they are never going to be achieved…or, at least, not by you.  Focusing on dreams too heavily can lead to burn-out and to giving up.

That’s why Young recommends focusing most of your energy trying to complete the steps and goals on your way to your dream.

Goals are the intermediate plans people make.  Long-term goals typically take from one month to three months to achieve.  Short-term goals typically take one week to one month.

Note the time-frames.  They are important.

whats-the-time
“What’s the Time” by Png Nexus via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If you accomplish the short-term goals, you get more energy to keep going for the longer-term goals.

You keep going until eventually the dream becomes real.

Goals are more easily quantifiable than dreams.  You can measure goals.  You know when you’ve met them.

(Goals are actually more fun than dreams, especially if you make a point of celebrating whenever you meet one.)

Young also says something very interesting about this dream-goal dichotomy.  If you’ve accomplished a dream before – say, getting a million downloads for an app – a reiteration of the successful dream plan becomes a goal, even if it takes more than three months to achieve.  (You did it once and so you are much more likely to do it again.  You know how.)

Steps are the little tasks that take less than one week to accomplish, according to Young.  They populate your To-Do List.  As you get them done, you check them off, and are that much nearer to accomplishing your goal.

ladders
“Ladders!” (Mont Blanc) by JWU via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Young recommends that you have goals that take about one week to accomplish and that you plan steps that take fewer than two days.  (You can put your dreams on a vision-board that you hang by your bed.  It’ll help you get up in the morning.)

In his research lab, Young says, the students and staff keep an updated end-of-week chart that describes the goals they have set to achieve for the following week.  This lets them get together at the end of each week to discuss the steps they need to take in order to accomplish their goals on time.

The end-of-week meeting also lets the team see what they’ve already accomplished and gets them excited about continuing the journey towards their dream.

This regularly scheduled assessment of how it’s going so far goes a long way to helping you stay on track.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve focused on Young’s Stepladders model here because, for me, it is an exemplary example of Un-Seeing.  This model is a most effective, very different way to look at dreams and goals that allows us to work on them effectively using genuinely small steps.

The rest of Young’s STICK WITH IT is loaded with extraordinary insights into the way our brains work and with other ways to build perseverance and dancing with change effectively.

I do recommend it.

ladder-man
Photo credit: “Ladderman” by ^bkc via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0] (work by Israel sculptor Tolle Inbar)
Here’s a poem….


GOING ON THROUGH

There is no way to go but through.

I keep telling myself that,

A mantra that lifts my soul

Up once again from where

It’s fallen to the floor.

No whining, no whimpering….

Go through.

That is the whole of it.

 

And it’s a funny thing.

I do get up,

Put my legs under me again,

Put my feet back on the ground.

I stand.

I walk.

And somehow, some way,

Getting through happens.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “raise the roof” by super awesome via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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