Today we’re going to talk about change. Honestly, though, that’s pretty much the only thing I talk about, when you come right down to it. But one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned about creating change—real, lasting change—comes down to the topic of this “Message in a Minute” video:
To change what people do you have to change how they see.
Here’s the video’s Red Thread:
- GOAL: Change someone’s (or a market’s!) thinking or behavior.
- PROBLEM: When making the case for change, we often focus more on what people are doing than on how they’re seeing.
- TRUTH: How we see drives what we do.
- CHANGE: To change what people do you have to change how they see
- ACTION: There’s a couple of steps to this one:
- First, identify the lens your audience currently uses when looking for answers to their unanswered question (btw, this current perspective is the “duck” of the “Duck Bunny” I talk about in Chapter 4 of my book)
- Second, find an alternative, but equally agreeable, lens for your audience to look through (this is the “bunny” of said Duck Bunny)
- Third, make that new, “bunny” perspective impossible for your audience to ignore by creating a moment of truth
- GOAL REVISITED: By rooting a possible change in perspective that’s easy for someone to adopt, you’re often offering someone a way to change what they’re doing without changing who they see themselves to be. In fact, you’re very likely giving your audience a way to feel even more like who they want to be, as well.
How to apply it
My first job out after getting my MBA and master’s degrees was a brief but enduring turn as a “change management consultant.” It was brief because it only lasted about a year, until the city of Dallas and I realized we weren’t exactly made for each other (El Gordo crepes from Cafe Brazil notwithstanding). The enduring part comes in because, even though I only ever officially had that title once—thanks, Pritchett!—I don’t think I ever really stopped being a change management consultant.
That was especially true in the years I moonlighted as a Weight Watchers leader.
If you’re not familiar, Weight Watchers is a weight management program. As a leader, my role every week was to lead a discussion among the members about a particular topic. The goal, of course, was to share a bit of information and inspiration that, ideally, would help the members make the changes they needed to make to achieve the health goals they were looking for.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight—or harder, maintain a weight loss—you know that making those changes isn’t necessarily easy. There’s a big gap between doing something once and continuing to do it long enough to both get results and become a habit.
So, yeah, I learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t to create those kinds of shifts in thinking or behavior. And it wasn’t what I was taught in school about marketing, or even on the job in change management. It came down to understanding the incredibly intricate, and intimate, shifts that have to happen for someone to come to their own conclusions about why a suggested change makes sense for them.There's a big gap between doing something once and continuing to do it long enough to both get results and become a habit. Click To Tweet
One situation, in particular, taught me one of the most important lessons in what has to happen for a shift to occur.
You know the lesson already—since it’s in super big type up above—but it’s been foundational to my work ever since.
To change what people do, you have to change how they see.
The situation was this: There are a lot of people who consider themselves to be “night eaters.” As they describe it, the most difficult time of the day for them to make healthier choices was at night. They’d usually eat a healthy dinner… and then keep eating, often throughout the evening and night until they finally went to bed.
A note here: Weight Watchers operates on what they call the “points system.” It works like a budget. All food has a points value, and you’re given a target range of points to consume in a day. If you eat and drink in a way that keeps you within your points for the day, by and large, you’d lose weight (or maintain it, if that was your goal). The night eaters’ trouble was that all that post-dinner-snacking often blew their budget for the day, and often the week.
And they were frustrated. Really frustrated. They wanted to achieve their weight and health goals, but who they saw themselves to be—night eaters—seemed to work directly against how they saw the program was supposed to work. They were able to make the choices they wanted all the way up until dinner and then…nope.
What could I do?
While there is nothing in someone’s genetic coding that predestines them to be a night eater, that belief about themselves was deeply rooted in their identity. What I learned wouldn’t work was to try to convince them that they weren’t, in fact, a night eater at all. (And yes, I tried that in the early days: presenting all the science and evidence. That was, shall we say, a “no go.”)
I also wasn’t going to try to convince them to give up on their health goals. Just like there is nothing that says someone “must” be a night eater, there’s also nothing that says a night eater can’t be successful at losing or maintaining weight. Indeed, I knew it was possible because I’d done it myself. I lost and maintained a 50-pound weight loss (for 22+ years now) eating a 10 pm snack every night before bed.
So if I didn’t want to change what someone wanted (a nearly impossible task anyway), and couldn’t change what they believed (at least not in the window of a single 30-45-minute weekly meeting), what was left?
How they looked at the intersection of themselves and the program. How they saw, not themselves, but the situation.
See, the points target was for a “day.” But nowhere in the program did it ever say that the points had to start in the morning, and we could all agree that any span of 24 hours is a “day.” So my advice?
Start your points at night.
Since the members had the control they wanted during the day, starting their points at dinner allowed them freedom when they needed it (nighttime) and control when they had it (during the day). I didn’t change the program or bend the rules. They didn’t have to give up what they wanted or what they believed. And it worked.
I return often to this example because it’s such a clear demonstration not only of the power of changing how people look at a situation but also of how to do it.
When someone is doing something they (or you) don’t want to, it’s easy to think the problem is with the action itself.
But actions come from somewhere—they come from how someone thinks or believes they should act in a situation, from their perspective on the world, or themselves, or the combination of the two.
To help someone take on, and keep taking, a shift in thinking or behavior, you have to solve that “problem of perspective” first.
In my book, Find Your Red Thread, I talk about how to do that:
You have to find the Duck Bunny.
The Duck Bunny is an optical illusion where, depending on how you look at an image, it looks like either a duck or a rabbit. It’s a perfect mascot for this approach to helping people see another view for a few reasons.
- No matter which animal you see first, you’re right
- Once you know a second animal exists, you can see it and agree it’s there
- Once you see both, you can easily switch back and forth between the two only by changing your perspective, not the picture itself
So let’s take this back to my story, and ultimately, to yours. My Weight Watchers members wanted to follow the points system so they could lose weight (this was their Goal). Their current, “duck” perspective (which I use because, based on my unscientific experiments, more people see the duck first), was that the points value applied to a (as in single) day. That was correct. It did. And does still.
The new, “bunny” perspective I introduced was to focus on the span of time a day covers: 24 hours. That’s also correct, and is also agreeable to my audience. They could easily agree that “there are 24 hours in a day.”
Then I made that “24-hour” focus impossible to ignore. If they agreed that any 24 hours span could constitute a day (and I assured them the program agreed), the new behavior became clear… and irresistible: Start the points at night.
The process for you and your message is the same.
I outline it process in the quick version, above, but here it is again:
- First, identify the lens your audience currently uses when looking for answers to their unanswered question (“a day” in my Weight Watchers example)
- Second, find an alternative, but equally agreeable, lens for your audience to look through (“24 hours in a day”)
- Third, make that new, “bunny” perspective impossible for your audience to ignore by creating a moment of truth (“those 24 hours can start at any hour”)
A warning: this is absolutely the hardest part of finding your Red Thread. The Duck Bunny is adorable… and can be maddeningly elusive. After over four years of helping people find them, though, I can tell you that it’s also absolutely possible to get better and better at it.
And it’s worth it. When you can validate someone’s current perspective, you make them feel both seen and heard. When you introduce a new perspective that they can agree is equally true, it gives them hope that their previously unanswerable question—their Goal—might just have an answer after all. And when you attach that new perspective to something they already agree is true (or easily can), you lead your audience to a change that feels even more consistent with who they see themselves to be, both now and in the future.When you can validate someone's current perspective, you make them feel both seen and heard. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
To change what people do, you have to change how they see. That’s today’s Message in a Minute. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. And here’s what I mean by that. When you have a big idea, you want it to change people’s thinking or behavior, and you know that you need to make that case for change. But a lot of times when we make that case for change, we tend to focus on what people are doing, those behaviors, then how they’re seeing. Yet, how we see the world drives what we do in it. Our perspectives alter our perceptions. It limits or determines exactly what we can see, and that determines what we see as our options for acting.
So that means to change what somebody does, you have to change how they see first. And that starts with understanding how they see, what lens they’re looking through when they’re trying to answer their own questions or solve their own problems. And within that view, you need to find a way to give them a new perspective to start to focus on instead. So remember, when you are trying to figure out how to change what people do, change how they see first. You can read much more about this in my book, Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible. You can find more on that at redthreadbook.com and get weekly inspiration at my newsletter, TamsenWebster.com/newsletter.
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