How to change behaviours with one powerful equation
Have you ever struggled and wondered how to change behaviours? If so, you are not alone. Ensuring you have good behaviours is critical because your behaviours will create the results you have in your life. Your behaviours, which when repeated frequently become habits, are the foundations of your success or lack of success. You don’t get rewarded for how much you effort you put in. Your true results are measured by the accomplishment of your goals.
So, it was with great excitement when I recently discovered an equation that confirmed something I have known for a while in an area I work with frequently.
Behaviour (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) in their environment (E).
or B = f (P, E)
This simple yet powerful equation for behaviour, called “Lewin’s Equation,” states that behaviour is the function of the person interacting within his environment. It holds the key to the eternal question, ‘how to change behaviours?’
Kurt Lewin published this equation in 1936
Kurt Lewin was one of the first psychologists to propose that the development of an individual was the product of the interaction between inborn predispositions (nature) and life experiences (nurture).
Prior to this, a person’s actions were attributed entirely to their temperament and personality, not their environment.
To put it another way, your environment plays a key part both in determining your behaviours and in how to change behaviours. It isn’t only the reasons you give yourself, such as lack of willpower, commitment or concern about not being strong enough or whatever other reason or excuse you cite.
It’s the simplicity of this powerful equation that is key in understanding how to change behaviours
Once you connect with the power of this simple equation and apply it to your life, you can use it to help create new behaviours in your life. Behaviours that once done consistently will become helpful habits.
It’s important to realise that you spend around 45 to 50% of your waking behaviour operating by habit. As your subconscious mind runs your habits, you are not aware of what you are doing much of the time. You might like to think you are in charge of your actions and behaviours. However, the truth is you are driven by your subconscious mind almost half your waking day.
So let’s look at how your environment influences your behaviours and triggers your default way of operating. In other words, falling back into the habit mode.
How your environment influences your behaviours
- Can you recall a time when you were enjoying the company of friends? The atmosphere was warm, company good, conversation engaging, and you overindulged? It probably has more to do with the environment than your willpower.
- What about grabbing an unhealthy snack after a hard day because you are tired, and the snack easy to access?
- Have you ever started your day with the greatest intention to work effectively on your important proposal only to find yourself hijacked by a notification or email popping across your screen?
- What about when someone interrupts you? Do you ignore them or allow them to distract you? How quickly can you get back into the flow of what you were doing?
- And what about hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock instead of getting up because your bed is warm and cosy?
If you consider all the above, you will notice how much the environment influences what happens next. The first thing to remember is that when you are tired or suffering from decision fatigue, you fall back into your automatic, habitual way of operating. Unless you know the trigger, which is either in your environment or internally, you won’t be able to change it. This is because you’ll already be doing it before you know it!
But I don’t have any willpower to change behaviours
So, instead of giving yourself a reason for your poor behaviour; justifying it with sentences like, “I don’t have any willpower,” “I’m not good at learning new technology,” “I’m just a big-boned person,” or “I’m just not a morning person,” stop and look around at your environment.
Here’s how to shake up your environment to help create healthy habits.
If you want to eat healthy food, hide the chocolate biscuits in the tallest cupboard. This makes it harder to access them.
To become better at saving and spending less, put your credit card in the freezer. To access your card, you will have to wait until it defrosts!
For avoiding interruptions at work, put a note on your door, or politely tell the person you cannot attend to their needs now but you will in one hour’s time.
To complete your important project quicker, turn off your phone, email notifications and remove all distractions. Clear your desk of all visual distractions.
To keep focused and working on what is important, plan your day and schedule tasks. Set a timer so you know how long you are working on a project. This will help you stay focused rather than being distracted because of an interesting email or replying instantly to a dinner invitation for a week’s time. This is how to change behaviours that don’t match your intended outcomes and how to create successful habits.
Multi-tasking reduces output, so fix your environment to help change behaviours
Research shows that multitasking reduces output. When you take charge of your environment and are more intentional with your actions you are more likely to stick with your better behaviours. The more you stick with the good behaviour, the more likely it is to become a good habit.
To show the power and influence of the environment, in the book ‘Leaders eat Last’ by Simon Sinek, he specifically references how great leaders create an environment that makes people feel safe. When people feel safe in a work environment, they build trust and cooperation. Trust and cooperation build engagement and boost productivity and ultimately profits.
Trust and cooperation are the keys to improving profitability and creating good behaviours
Using an analogy of a snowmobile in the desert, where people are snowmobiles, he writes:
‘We were designed to operate in very specific conditions. Take that machine designed for one kind of condition – snow – and put it in another condition – the desert, for example, and it won’t operate as well. Sure, the snowmobile will go. It just won’t go as easily or as well as if it were in the right conditions. What too many leaders of organisations fail to appreciate is that it’s not the people that are the problem. The people are fine. Rather, it’s the environment in which the people operate that is the problem. Get that right and things just go.’
How liberating. You aren’t the main problem! It’s not always because of a lack of willpower or determination. It’s because your environment is tempting you and pulling you back into your comfortable way of operating. Frequently, it’s because the environment is not set up right for your success. Taking charge of your environment will help you regain control. Not to mention, additional keys for how to change behaviours into better ones.
Correspondingly, another key point is that science has proven your brain is plastic. Neuroplasticity shows you can change and your genes do not have to define your identity. Therefore you really can master how to change behaviours and create healthy habits with this understanding this simple formula.
There is a science to habits and all habits start with a behaviour
For more information regarding the Science of Habits (yes, there is a science behind habits,) read about the power of habits here. The more you understand how habits form, the more equipped you will be to change them. Equally important is the creation of keystone habits; a key insight from reading Charles Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habits.’
In conclusion, the simple formula:
Behaviour (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) in their environment (E) has the power to revolutionise your life.
Taking charge of your environment is the first step in how to change behaviours. Then, you, the (P) in the equation, experience the new behaviour and automatically feel more empowered. Next, this builds momentum to continue. Finally, you start to prove to yourself that you can do what is necessary to achieve the results you want and master those poor or time-wasting behaviours.
By the same token, this helps you build a firm inner belief and confidence. Ultimately you build a Mindset for Success, or what Carol Dweck terms, a Growth Mindset. A growth mindset means you believe that you can improve, learn and build upon your current skills and abilities. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, it gathers more snow and grows into something bigger. Imagine what you can create in your life?