The pressure to “See the Big Picture”, “Go Big or Go Home”, and to “Think Bigger” is prevalent across both pop culture and business culture. No wonder it is difficult for us to feel okay about taking any kind of small action or step toward our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Anything small isn’t good enough.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m all for big goals and big thinking. But when it comes to changing peoples’ behavior, big steps take too much energy. That stops big cold.
Read any psychology book, site or blog and they consistently prove motivation takes energy. Motivation is emotional, not rational, and we spend a lot of time (at least in the United States) pushing all of those emotions out of our mainstream actions. No wonder change seems hard. We are using logic and reason to tap into unexplainable instinctive and emotional places we are wary to go ourselves.
The Elephant and The Rider
Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psychologist and author of , provides a great analogy explained further by authors Chip and Dan Heath. It goes like this: imagine an elephant and his rider. Our emotional side is represented by the elephant and our rational side by the rider. While the rider may like to think he or she is in charge, let’s be realistic about the struggle between a puny human and a six-ton elephant over which direction to go. The rider doesn’t have a chance.
Switch goes on to say that when our efforts to change fail, it is typically our emotions (the elephant) that fail us as we look for short-term instant gratification versus long-term gain. Think about it. When we ask people to change, we are asking for immediate ‘sacrifice’ for long term gain. If our inner elephant is not properly motivated for near-term, immediate success, it ain’t budging.
So how do you appeal to the emotional, short-term side of human behavior? Start small. “Go big or go home” may rally initial emotional support, but when the reality of action hits, it is too overwhelming. Our fear of failure kicks in. The hurdle feels too big so we do nothing. Fortunately, motivation is like a muscle that becomes stronger with use. Motivation requires confidence and that comes through small wins that steadily progress toward to the larger goal. Small wins feed the emotional ego, and urge it forward to do the next step, and the next step, until before you know it you’ve ‘Gone Big’.
How Small Can You Go? – A Personal Change Challenge
I’m joining an experiment conducted by BJ Fogg who heads up the . Dr. Fogg studies behavior change and specifically habit building through “Tiny Habits” a weeklong guided experiment to take on three tiny habits in your own life.
The behaviors he asks you to create for yourself are so tiny they are challenging even my idea of small. Can tiny, nearly unnoticeable habits have long term staying power and lead to big, productive habits? How long will it take? I am my own test subject for this one, and I’m setting out to answer these questions for myself. I invite you to join me the week of December 24th or join another week BJ Fogg is sure to offer in 2013.