Transforming Behaviour Change

November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

The RSA is becoming a go-to place for the latest thinking on social- and behaviour change. Charlotte Millar sent me a great piece coming out of the RSA Social Brain Project – including this stellar quote.

“While we know a lot about how hard it is to change bad habits, we know much less about how we form good habits. A recent study authored by Phillipa Lally at UCL suggests that it takes about 66 days for a behaviour to become habitual, by which she means completed without thinking about it. In other words it is not easy to form a good habit. You need repeated practice, and to find a way to keep motivation high. As Canadian magician Doug Henning once elegantly put it:

The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.

This point explains why habituation has a social dimension. We rarely succeed in changing our habits and thereby shaping our lives in the way we want to if we ‘go it alone’. Instead we need what Avner Offer called ‘commitment devices’. Offer argues that humans have unhitched themselves from the institutions that are protective against the inherent short-sightedness of the human condition, including religious institutions.

For the hard to become habit, we need social reinforcement, for the habit to become easy we need to shape our habitats accordingly — places to practice and people to teach us or work with, and for the ‘easy to become beautiful’ we need social rewards, such that the new found habit is socially endorsed. The issue is therefore not so much to change people’s habits, but to make the social process of habituation more consciously shared. However, while the social dimension is important, we also need to pay close attention to the way the habituation process arises in ourselves. In Kegan’s terms, we need to be less subject to our habits, and make them the objects of our attention.”

I love this – making change social and making it beautiful. Sign me up!

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