How to Change Your Environment to Change Your Behavior
18th July, 2022
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[00:34] - Multiple verses from scripture remind us that, while we can trust the consistency of God, change is good for us. He’ll be with us as we grow to be better servants for Him.
[02:19] - Change can include modifying thoughts via behavior or vice versa. But Dan Ariely promotes changing your environment first to encourage shifts in what you do.
[03:08] - The first key to changing the environment is reducing friction, such as putting all your supplies in one closet if you want people to organize a certain way.
[04:18] - The story of Jacob and Esau demonstrates reducing friction in that Jacob used gifts and flocks to break down the barrier between the brothers and make it easier to reconcile.
[05:38] - The story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus also demonstrates reducing friction. Jesus essentially gave Judas permission to go and do what he was going to do, clearing the way for the crucifixion.
[06:22] - A motivator is Ariely’s second key to changing behavior through environmental shifts. We all have different motivators, but we all need rewards and visible ways to track what we’re doing. Connecting the new behavior to a sense of purpose is effective for most people.
[07:34] - The story of me learning to swim demonstrates the addition of a motivator. The kind encouragement of others and the desire to spend time with them motivated me to overcome my fears. Everyone can learn to do new things if they just have the right carrot, so observe, find the right motivator, and adjust.
[09:16] - The story of the disciples is another example of added motivators. The disciples were motivated to preach because they had spent time with Jesus and understood who He was. They knew what was at stake if they did not spread His teachings and knew their reward was waiting for them in Heaven.
Although God never changes, for us, change and growth is a positive thing. It enables us to better understand and serve Him.
There’s a connection between thought and behavior. Thought can influence what you do and vice versa.
Dan Ariely’s first recommendation for changing behavior is to reduce friction, which just means to make the new behavior as easy as possible to do. This includes making the new alternative seem at least equal to the old behavior in risk, benefit, etc. The stories of Jacob and Esau and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus both show reducing friction in practice.
Dan Ariely’s second recommendation for changing behavior is to add a motivator. This is different for everyone, but almost everyone is motivated by things that give them a sense of purpose. Adding motivators requires inner or relationship work. Me learning to swim and the preaching of the disciples are examples of motivators in action.
Keep a journal or other log of your behaviors or the behaviors of others. Use the journal to determine both habits to change and the ideal motivators.
Pray for God to help reveal which changes to make in your personal life or projects. Seek feedback from others, as well.
What’s coming up next:
We’ve officially reached a full year of Faithful on the Clock! To celebrate, Episode 52 will reflect on everything we’ve learned, done, and hope yet to accomplish.
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Hello, everybody out there! This is the Faithful on the Clock podcast, where every episode is designed to get your faith and work aligned. I’m your host, Wanda Thibodeaux, and in this show, I’m going to talk about the connection between your environment and your behavior and how to change the environment to start acting better. There are two big tips coming up so hang in there with me for some practical advice.
To jump right in, I'll point you to Hebrews 13:8, which says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. So we can have confidence in the consistency of Jesus and of God. And even though we are made in God's image, we are not perfect. So we have to work really hard and try to be better if we're going to serve Him well. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We also have a reminder in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that "if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation." And finally, Isaiah 43 18:19 says "Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." And so for us, change can be an incredibly good thing, and God walks alongside us in that change. In that context, I think that we all have some behaviors that maybe we don't like or that we'd like to improve. I, for example, have been known to down a couple of cartons of french fries now and again. And in the workplace, this might be, you know, maybe you don't turn in your projects on time, or maybe you're a little bit too harsh with your coworkers when you don't want to be. And whether we're just starting out or you’re the CEO of the company, it's really handy to be able to get ourselves into a position where we can let some of those bad habits go.
But what's the right way to go about that? Because there is a connection between what you think and what you do. So if you train yourself to think in a certain way, those new thoughts are going to evolve the way you act. But it works in the opposite direction, too. So if you start behaving a certain way it's going to influence the thoughts that go through your head as you're performing your activities. So it's kind of this chicken and the egg question of which to do first if you wanna change. But Dan Ariely, he's the professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, he did a TED talk just a couple of years ago and he asserted that, if you want to change behavior, you have to change your environment first. And his advice was to do just two things.
Now the first thing that Ariely talked about was reducing friction. So, in other words, you just want to make the new behavior as easy as possible to do. So, for example, let's say you just want everybody to organize folders in a certain way. Well, then you might bring all of the supplies to do that into one closet rather than having them scattered around the office. Or if you want to think about this in marketing terms and sales, this would be something like simplifying your website and putting the buy button in a really obvious place so things aren't confusing for the customer. But sometimes removing obstacles isn't particularly simple. Maybe for tech or legal or other reasons, you just can't do it. In that case, you just want to make sure the new behavior scene equal to the old behavior in terms of how much risk or benefits or effort it has. You just want to make the alternative behavior seem really reasonable to do. So for example, maybe you have a new application that you want your team to use, so you make the login process for the new application the same as a program that they're already used to.
To bring in a Biblical story to show this, I’ll point you to Genesis 27:33. You’ll read there about the brothers, Jacob and Esau. And the story is that, you know, back in those days, the father would bestow a birthright or a blessing on the firstborn son. And the firstborn because of that birthright kind of had dibs on the best or most of what the father could pass on as inheritance. And Esau was the oldest brother, and Jacob was the younger, so the birthright from their father, Isaac, should have been Esau’s. But Jacob’s mother, she convinced Jacob to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the birthright. So even though Esau initially had said the birthright didn’t mean too much to him, he wasn’t too happy about the whole situation. And so Jacob was scared that Esau was going to try to kill him. And they lived apart for years. And when Jacob finally had the opportunity to see Esau again, he was still scared. So you know what he did? He sent all kinds of flocks and gifts ahead out to Esau so Esau wouldn’t be angry anymore. He used those gifts and animals as a way to break down the barrier the brothers had to reconciliation, to make it easier for Esau to forgive him. And you know what? It worked.
And if you want to go New Testament on this, you can look at the story of Judas in John 13 18-27. So before the crucifixion, Jesus had the last supper with all of his disciples, including Judas. And He knew Judas would betray Him and had Him over to be killed. But Jesus didn’t stand in the way. He turned to Judas and basically gave Judas permission. He said, “Whatever you are about to do, do quickly.” Because by giving that permission to Judas and just letting him go, by making it easy to go through with the betrayal, Jesus set the stage for the cross and the resurrection. You know, Jesus knew that there was enormous good that was going to come from it.
But if you’ve got a situation where, you know, things look pretty even, that’s why you need a second element to tip the scale. And Ariely identifies this as a motivator. You want to bring something into the environment or situation that’s going to get you or other people pumped up on the new option. And as I have said many times, including on this show, there is no one size fits all for that. We all have different things that light a fire underneath us. So that’s where you have to become really in tune to who you personally are and to understand yourself. And it’s also where, if you’re managing anybody, you have to get out there on the floor and get to know people so you know what really makes them tick and what they get excited about. There’s no real substitute for that inner or relationship work, OK? But what Ariely stresses is that people, no matter who they are, they do need visible ways to track and get rewarded for what they’re doing. However you can take the behavior and connect it to influence or a sense of purpose, that’s typically going to be really attractive and keep people engaging in the behavior you want.
So I’ll give you a quick story to illustrate this. And it’s not work related, but it hits the point pretty well. So my good friends, they know that, despite my graying hairs, I never learned to swim. And I’m fully prepared to, you know, wear the cone of shame on that. But I just never learned for lots of reasons. But this summer, I finally said to myself, you know, I don’t want to be on the sidelines when my family’s at the pool or the beach anymore. And I’d been thinking that for a long time. But it wasn’t until my kids really started encouraging me, you know, telling me that I’d succeed at it, that they knew I could do it, that I really felt like I was going to make anything happen with it. Because if you’re a love language person, I think I’m probably touch first and foremost, but man, words of affirmation, that makes a huge difference for me. And they just kept giving me those encouragements, and I have a good friend who did the same thing, and it really did motivate me until, you know what? I bought a swimsuit and I actually got in the pool. So I’m learning, the old dog–well, OK, the oldish dog, I’m not that ancient–but I’m learning new tricks after all. And the thing I want to get across is, everybody can learn to do new things. It’s not beyond you, OK? It’s not beyond your team. You just have to figure out what kind of carrot you need. And sometimes, that might change over time. I know I used to be really motivated by the idea of having more income. But over time, it’s just, you know, that’s not doing it for me anymore. I’m more motivated by the opportunity to just really be myself, and I’m acting a lot more based on that. So just keep observing and adjust wherever you need to.
Getting back into scripture, just take the disciples. Most of them faced enormous persecution and suffered really awful deaths. But they went out every day and preached the gospel. Why? Because they had spent time with Jesus. They knew because of that who He was and why He mattered. And they were so moved by everything they had experienced that they just couldn’t keep quiet. They knew that lives and souls were at stake if they didn’t do differently than in the past. And they anticipated the reward Jesus had promised them, that they would be reunited with Him forever in Heaven. And I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty awesome motivator to me.
So just to recap, Ariely, he’s saying that if you want to change yourself or others, you start by reducing friction and then add in a motivator. If you can do those two things, you can pivot or improve in really impressive ways. It might take time, but the potential is there.
So would you join me really quickly in a prayer?
Lord, whether it’s in our everyday lives or the office, it’s usually not much benefit for us to just stand still. We need to grow and develop past bad habits and behaviors if we’re going to succeed for ourselves, for others, or for You. So show us where we can remove hurdles and get where we need to be. Help us be aware, both of ourselves and the people around us, so we can connect to what motivates us, and God, I pray that our biggest motivator is always to honor and serve You. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
That’s it, everybody. The curtain’s closing on the stage, I guess. So next week, I’m absolutely elated, because it’s the 52nd episode of the podcast. That’s right, people. We have officially been putting out the show for a full year. So I’m just gonna celebrate and tell you all the things I’ve learned through the experience, and what my plans are for the show going forward. Join us next week for that, subscribe to our email list at faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm, and as always, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.