Screw your magical thinking

This article originally posted at The Behaviour Guy

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.
Herbert V. Prochnow

People often ask me; how do I change behaviour?

I have had people ask me, upon learning that I study human behaviour, to tell them how to fix their son’s aberrant behaviour, or their wives refusal to cook even a single meal, or their co-workers inability to finish an important piece of work on time.


Magical Solutions

They want, more often than not, a simple fix. A magical solution to their problem. It’s seemingly in our nature to want these solutions. We want a “short cut” or a “lifehack” for everything. Click bait sites like Buzzfeed survive by publishing out a rolling stream of “35 ways to cook eggs easier” or “10 ways to make your commute more enjoyable” type articles. They feed on the almost primal desire to make things easier, to conserve energy, and to survive for longer.

You can probably see the difference between conserving energy on the grassy plains stalking a wild animal, and shaving a few seconds of your morning Eggs Benedict.

Without being too preachy it’s easy to see how the cult of magical thinking makes our lives harder, not easier. We are always trying to make life easier and in so doing miss opportunities to actually achieve our goals.

Going back to my first point; people often ask me how do I change behaviour – they want a simple answer to a difficult problem. So here is the answer I give them.

Just start trying different things

And oh boy, does that rile up some people.

You see there are a two very simple strategies underlying behaviour change.

Give people what they want. 

Take away what people don’t want.

Once you understand that and apply it you can make anyone do anything – happily and without complaint.

Yet people are not content with this as a solution. They want specific strategies. I tell them I can’t give them specifics because I don’t know the context, they just have to try different things and see what works.

This, to most people, sounds like hard work. So they don’t bother.

Their loss. 

You, on the other hand, are not most people. If you are reading this you are probably of above average intelligence and curiosity. That alone separates you from most of the other people trying to change behaviour.

Here is what you need to do

First things first; Screw your magical thinking. 

Stop trying to look for easy solutions. Instead begin a process. Start trying different things. Take away negatives. Provide positives. Do this repeatedly, systematically, and consciously, until you find the solution that makes the change you want.

Yes there are more elegant solutions but they require months – if not years – of academic study to understand and properly apply. If you desperately want these methods for your own business I can provide them for a fee.

But you don’t need them. 

Forget magical thinking. Start with the trial and error. You’ll be amazed at the results.

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