To change your behaviour

To change your behaviour

To change your behaviour

We know the advice ‘change or die’ and yet millions of people and corporations don’t. Why? Because there is a big gap between a resolve to change and actually executing the change. It is like those times when we write a to-do list but don’t do what we have written down. In our minds making the list becomes carrying it out. Another analogy is the book-buyer who behaves as though buying a book is the same as reading it – or reading it is the same as understanding it.

Learning has the same problem. Myriads of people sign up for courses they never take or, even if they do, never finish. Intention sometimes replaces action in our minds. The reason for these not-done events is that we approach them from the wrong angle. Look at what you do when you go to a conference. Two behaviours are likely to dominate your time there.

First, you will look at your mobile phone or tablet while listening to speakers. You are convinced – contrary to the evidence – that you can multitask. Clearly you can, but your ability to handle properly any of the subjects is reduced in direct proportion to the number of tasks you are trying to carry out. If you are listening to a subject you don’t want to know about you are better to leave the room and deal with your emails somewhere else. Then you will answer them correctly.

Second, you will make notes. Obviously the purpose of your notes and the extent to which they fulfill that purpose determines if they are worthwhile. It may be that you think making notes helps you to remember the relevant points of the speaker’s talk. It may even be that, occasionally, they will. Generally, however, making notes is a distraction. I only once met a man who took notes perfectly in meetings. He was an Iranian Civil Servant, in the mid-1970s!

What is going on that our behaviour is so contrary to our aspirations? We are failing to order our priorities. We can’t always know what is really important and we certainly should try to learn some new things regularly. But we have a poor record of prioritising and I sense that with our ready access to everything, it is getting worse. Answer? Do the thing you least want to do, first.

Here are ten questions to ask about any intention, action, project or task:

Is it my duty to do this?
Will the outcome of doing this help anybody and if so who?
How valuable is that help? What is likely to happen if the beneficiaries don’t get it?
What will be the cost – emotional, commercial, social – of delaying or not doing it?
Do I want to do it? If not, can I get someone else to do it as well as I would?
What satisfaction will others get if I do this? And what will I get from doing this?
What penalties will I or others suffer if I don’t do it?

Life Is significantly about rewards and punishments. These are not just rewards for ourselves, although good works for others usually have a benefit to the giver, too. What makes us change our behaviour is the attitude we have towards achievement. All the above questions are about that. As with all checklists or processes they should be used to stimulate thought not as a substitute for it.

Change requires reason and discipline.

Can you provide both?