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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 18:25

Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line, Part III: Motivation to Change

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In our previous posts on Positive Psychology, we talked about what positive psychology really is, and how it's important when you're thinking about change, and about neuroplasticity and how it affects the way we learn.

Today we're going to look at how this applies to the motivation to change.

motivation to change

Neural pathways by any other name...

All organizations have neural pathways - but we call them 'processes' or 'the way we do things around here'.  As with neural pathways, processes tend to be self-reinforcing.  That may be because they're official and written down, or because they are part of the unwritten, accepted culture - but they're still self-reinforcing.  When they're working well, they become stronger and that can be a good thing for the organization, but they can make it harder to change something which is entrenched within the organization.

Motivation to Change

Dr. Ellen Langer, a noted Positive Psychologist, conducted a study in which she asked study participants if they wanted to change from being rigid, gullible or grim.  She asked each participant if they valued consistency, trusting and seriousness - and those who said yes had the most difficulty changing.  This is because thought I might say I don't want to be so rigid, if I value consistency it will be hard for me to really want to change - my desire to become less rigid is fighting with my desire for consistency.  So I need to learn to distinguish between the positive and negative parts of the characteristic before I can begin to make any changes.  In other words, I need to unbundle rigidity and consistency if I hope to make a substantive change. 

Motivation to change starts with having some feelings about what I want to change.  Studies show that without emotions we cannot act.  Do my feelings, divided by perceived effort, equal at least 1?  If the perceived effort is greater than the emotions I feel and the equation is less than one, I will not act.

In 1965, Dr. Howard Leventhal and associates conducted a study in which researchers tried to get students to get their tetanus shot.  At first there was no reaction.  Then they increased the emotional component:  They showed students pictures of people who hadn't had a tetanus shot and what had happened to them.  Some students were motivated to take action, but most did not.  Then researcheers demonstrated the reduced effort it would take to get the shot - on one flyer they included the location of the clinic, the hours of operation, and even the phone number.  Only then did they get a large response.  By lowering the perceived effort required to get the shot, the researchers finally got students sufficiently motivated to take action.

The second component of motivation to change is recognizing the need to change.  This only happens when we take responsibility for our actions, rather than blaming others.  For example, if the attitude within the workplace is "I couldn't get that done because I didn't have enough lead time and then I didn't have the right tools to get the job done," then it's hard to drive change because no one feels responsible for the process or the outcome.  On the other hand, if the attitude within the organization encourages a more positive approach - "If I need better tools to get the job done, it's my responsibility to request those tools" - then it's easier to recognize the need to change.

The third component of motivation to change is believing change is possible.  Whether I do or don't, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I have a growth mindset - if I think that we (the organization and I) can grow, change and adapt - then it will happen.  At the same time, if I feel that it's not possible, it won't happen.  A growth mindset can be taught:  Talking about neuroplasticity can help, and fostering a workplace culture that values and encourages growth and development will also make a difference.  But like all organizational neural pathways, these mindsets have to be reinforced.

 

NEXT:  Part IV - Implications for Organizations

Read 39563 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 04:58

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