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My head tells me to change but my heart resists

Posted 23rd October 2019

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them.” Phyllis Bottome

Most of us are aware that we should change our habits to adapt to our rapidly changing world. The immediate threat of climate change or job automation count amongst many reasons why we need to adopt new behaviours to fit in and thrive in this new world.

But why is it that we find so hard to change?

Sometimes, changing our behaviour feels like betraying who we are. For example, Susanne who manages the in-house CRM system is proud of her ability to process information quickly and reach solutions easily. She believes herself to be very efficient and quick at her daily job. However, she is told that the users find the CRM too cumbersome and don’t utilise the system properly. Therefore the CRM system needs to be adjusted. As an enthusiast of the system in its present form, Susanne feels threatened by this change and questions her future role.

Photo by Milada

Christine Porath, the author of “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace”, highlights that managers and CEOs who make their employees feel heard, valued and appreciated are much more likely to get through difficult times. Let’s translate this into a practical example – if Susanne’s manager starts by acknowledging and expressing her gratefulness for Susanne’s strong skills (i.e. efficiency and quick processing), she can then encourage her to apply these useful skills to think out of the box (heuristic tasks). This could include asking Susanne to use her experience and skills to look for possible setbacks in the system; including being encouraged to check which data is not being added by the sales teams and possible reasons for this. Being tactful and sensitive can persuade employees most reluctant to change that change is not necessarily harmful and that it can even be beneficial.

Another block to change is being unclear about the nature and the impact of the change intended. This lack of information and lack of clarity can create a climate of suspicion and doubt about one’s ability to provide what the change requires. Let’s go back to Susanne, in order to believe that she can apply her strong skills to heuristic tasks, she has to understand precisely what the goals are (making sure employees are using the CRM system), what is expected of her (understanding why the employees don’t use it) and what will her new responsibilities be (adapting the new system to make it more user friendly). Without this information, she would be confused and doubt her capabilities to adapt to the new environment.

Photo by Cytonn

The Kaizen mindset stimulates our intrinsic motivation

The psychologist Robert Maurer adapted the Kaizen philosophy to human behaviour and called it the “Kaizen way”. It refers to a Japanese practice of taking very small steps each day to continuously improve a process or a product. Robert Maurer reminds us that when we need to cope with a big change, our brain interprets this change as a danger which threatens our routine and automatically activates the amygdala’s response, i.e. the “fight or flight” response. Our main response is to, therefore, escape from a situation of change.

However, when we take tiny steps towards change, our brain doesn’t detect a threat and doesn’t activate the amygdala. Our brain does not impede the need to take action. In the case of Susanne, asking her to use an educated guess and her intuitive judgement (heuristic task) to find out why the employees are not using the CRM system is a huge step from her daily routine of maintaining a system. So, if her manager encourages Susanne to send a survey to her colleagues asking they like and dislike about the CRM system, Susanne is more likely not to feel overwhelmed and confused as she will have some clarity as to her next steps.

Robert Maurer also highlights that rewarding each little victory (each step taken) is a form of encouragement which stimulates the intrinsic motivation necessary for a lasting change. In our example, each time Susanne finds a solution to a colleague’s complaint about the system (for example reducing the number of fields to facilitate the data input) she can listen to one of her favourite songs.

So, change is difficult without intrinsic motivation. You can order someone to do something but if it doesn’t fulfil them, this can lead to a poor result. On the contrary, if someone understands the reason for their actions, then in most cases, work becomes a pleasure and positive results ensue. For our heart to follow our head, to enjoy what we do and most of all feel that our job has a purpose, the ultimate goal is to create intrinsic motivation.

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