Habits may help us to carry out our daily routine but they often cause us trouble, from unhealthy eating and smoking, to poor study skills and work routines. We’ve all experienced that endless frustration when we try to kick a bad habit. The frustration you have now will soon be over. Our guest is a premier cognitive scientist and draws on all the latest scientific research to help us succeed in beating bad habits. With the help of today’s book, not only does he help us to understand just how habits are formed and maintained but he equips us with 5 essential tools to help us change our behaviour for the better and, what’s more, influence the behaviour of others at work and at home.
These same tools can also be used to help people around us change their behaviours, and this book shows us how. It is a great instruction manual for influencing others.
It is a pleasure to welcome the author of “Smart Change: Break the habits that hold you back and form the habits of success”, Art Markman, welcome to the show
More about Art here: http://smartchangebook.com
Art Markman – Smart Change Part 1
Mon, 6/6 8:04PM • 51:59
behaviour, habits, people, brain, system, goal, book, called, saxophone, energy, learn, repetition, important, engage, change, celebrate, piece, realise, short term, effortful
Art Markman, Steve Jobs, Aidan McCullen
Steve Jobs 00:00
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Aidan McCullen 00:03
Welcome to the second episode of the brains beliefs and biases series here on the innovation show. This one is smart change with our mark man, one of the world’s premier cognitive scientists. Before we start, I want to thank our sponsors Zai, boldly transforming the future of financial services with a suite of embedded products and services, empowering businesses to manage multiple payment workflows, and move funds with ease, you can check out Zai at HelloZai.com. Habits may help us to carry out our daily routine, but they often cause us trouble from unhealthy eating and smoking too poor study skills and work routines, we’ve all experienced that endless frustration when we try to kick a bad habit. The frustration you have now will soon be over. Because our guest is a premier cognitive scientist and draws on all the latest scientific research to help us succeed in beating bad habits. With the help of today’s book, not only does he help us to understand just how habits are formed and maintained, but He equips us with five essential tools to help us change our behaviour for the better, and what’s more influence the behaviour of others at work, and at home. These same tools can be used to help people around us change their behaviours. And this book tells us how it is a great instruction manual for influencing others. It is a great pleasure to welcome the author of that book and multiple others. But the focus of today’s episode is smart change, break the habits that hold you back and formed the habits of success. Art Markman. Welcome to the show. Thanks, Aidan. It is a pleasure to be here with you. It’s so great to have you. I absolutely love your work. I love this book. And I love your others. I was trying to influence you to come back. I was trying to use chapter eight from your book to get you to come back on well, well done. Okay. All right, I thought we’d start by diving into the path to smart change where you tell us about your own saxophone experiences, maybe that’s a good way to start. And then we’ll get into the structure of the book.
Art Markman 02:20
it’s a funny thing, I talk a lot about howthe real changes you need to be worried about making in your life are the ones where there’s some systematic failure. If you think about it, there’s lots of different kinds of failures that we have, most of them are benign. So for example, what the kids these days call adulting is, is basically balancing all of the resource trade offs you have to make, there just isn’t enough time and money and energy to do all the things you want to do whenever you want to do them. But every once in a while, when you look back at your life, you realise that there are things that you have systematically failed to achieve. And at that point, it’s actually worth taking a lesson from all the research on regret. So so the research on regret suggests that, that when you’re young, what you tend to regret are the dumb things you did. You know, you got You wrecked your father’s car, you cheated on a test, whatever it was, you know, and most of those things become good stories later in your life. And as you get older, it turns out what you tend to regret are the things you didn’t do. And so a lot of of trying to figure out what your systematic failures are involved trying to figure out what is it that when you get to the end of your life, you’ll look back on it and think to yourself, gosh, I I wish I had done that. And we as humans have a remarkable ability to do this kind of mental time travel to imagine ourselves late in life and looking back over what we’ve done so far, and thinking, Gosh, I always wished that I had done a particular thing. And I I like to practice what I preach with this. So I did that. And actually, when I was in my, my mid 30s, I played that game and realise that one of the things that I would regret is not having learned to play the saxophone, which I turned out the reason for that was when I was a kid, my mom had me take the piano so I took piano lessons, hated every minute of it, as it turns out, until until much later when I realised the piano was also a musical instrument that could be used to play songs that were written after 1850 But but i i I realised that when I was a kid, I asked my mom if I could take another instrument she said, Well, we bought you a piano. And so you’re going to play the piano and, and what by the time I reached my late 30s It was no longer my mom’s fault that that I hadn’t learned to take another instrument and so the following week I went out to A local music store. So I’d like to buy a saxophone, they said what kind? I said, I don’t know. They said, so you don’t really need a saxophone, you need a saxophone teacher. I said, Okay. And so and so I basically got a mentor, who, who walked me through the whole process, he helped me to buy a saxophone. He then gave me lessons, he was thrilled that I had never played because it meant I had no bad habits yet, that he would have to break. And, and that started a journey of about 10 years of saxophone lessons. And, you know, I’m, I’m not a great sax player, what I like to tell people is I’m better than anyone who doesn’t play and not anyone not as good as anyone who does. But I’ve, I’ve actually, you know, been able to play in bands around Austin, which is a wonderful music town and pre COVID was was playing in a ska band, you know, so yeah, you can, you can, in fact, find ways to fit these new activities in your life. And I love to tell the story, in part because somehow I think most people feel like, if you haven’t learned to play a particular instrument, by the time you’re, say, 16, that the window has somehow closed. And so when I tell people, no, I took up the socks in my mid 30s, they just stare at me, I say, Yeah, it’s really it turned out, it’s never too late to pick up a new thing.
Aidan McCullen 06:23
I’m so glad you said this. Because I find that in you know, even in innovation work, so many people are dis feel discouraged by others to do the work. And they can’t get a grasp of new habits, particularly as they grow older, etc. And just to share with our audience as well. So one of the goals that are makes in this book when he wrote this book was to play in a band. And the first thing I asked did you do, and as you’ve heard the wonderful use of his own skill sets here in understanding the brain and cetera. But I wanted to get into that today, particularly to next day, we’re going to do a two part series, at least two parts here. And part one, today, we’re going to talk about the structure, the brain, how it’s designed almost to keep you stuck in habits, even if they’re not great habits for you, etc. And then the next day, we’ll talk about how you can actually structure things to get out of those habits, which, as everybody here knows, is so important for organisational change and design, etc. So I’m going to take you off RT with a little less solo here of my own sex, a little quote from your book, you say, for you to engage in smart change. First, you have to understand why you act the way you do. In particular, it is crucial to recognise that most of our psychological mechanisms are devoted to maintaining established behaviours, rather than changing them. Though you may not believe it, you are exquisitely tuned to achieve your goals, whether you consider them to be positive or negative, the brain system that drives your behaviour, so effectively is called your motivational system. And you go on to say here, the problem we face when changing our behaviour is that every behaviour we want to change now is one that our brain is trying hard to maintain. So successful behaviour, behaviour change requires short circuits saying that mechanism, and that is the real challenge for us, particularly as we grow older, and most people who work in organisational change, they’re the people they work with.
Art Markman 08:29
No, I think that’s absolutely right. And, you know, unfortunately, we we don’t learn a lot about the way that minds and brains work. You know, if you if you think about it, the modern educational curriculum got laid down at the beginning of the 20th century. And, and so when we decided what sciences to teach, back in the early 1900s, we chose biology, chemistry and physics, because those were the mature sciences. And, quite frankly, if I was designing a curriculum in 1905, I could probably have taught you everything there was to know about psychology in about an hour or so. So that made perfect sense. But you know, 120 years have gone by and we’ve actually learned a lot about the way that minds and brains work and, and yet most people live in ignorance of, of their own psychology and their own structure, their own brains. And, and I think behaviour change is one of those brilliant examples of that. Because people are constantly putting themselves in situations in which they think I have to change my behaviour. I mean, it’s a, it’s become a rite of passage to to make a New Year’s resolution, and then to have that resolution fail, and then finally to just give up on making resolutions altogether, because they don’t work. And they don’t work because people don’t understand motivation. So let’s, let’s dig into this a little bit. The first thing we have to understand is that that our behaviour is goal directed. We have a certain number of of goals we’re trying to achieve, and and what we do at any given moment is to give a certain amount of energy, or what psychologists will call a arousal to one of our goals. And we do that based on the perception of some gap between where we are right now and where we’d like to be. So there’s a little bit of dissatisfaction that’s required to be motivated to do something. And that motivation can either come or that energy can either come, because there’s some desirable thing out there in the world that we want to achieve, that we haven’t yet achieved. And so we’re dissatisfied by that and energised or because there’s some looming threat out there. And we haven’t yet avoided that threat. And so we need to be energised to avoid the threat. So generally speaking, we get that energy. And that energy tends to be directed at one goal at a time. And when we energise a particular goal, it clears the decks for action. And so what it does is it it tends to focus our attention on things that are related to that goal, it tends to focus our attention away from things that are unrelated to the goal, it that actually increases the value that we put on things that are related to the goal and decreases the value of things that are unrelated to that goal. And so to the extent that we that we have a set of actions that have been have allowed us to achieve this goal in the past, our motivational system is really good at saying I’m in this situation right now, I’m energised to achieve this goal, I know what to do, and I’m going to go ahead and do it. And so we’re and I just, you know, for ease of exposition in the book, I tend to refer to that whole set of mechanisms as as the go system, that’s not really a technical term, but it’s an easy way of thinking about the fact that our motivational system is fundamentally about action and about doing things. And so we, we engage that ghost system to, to carry out some set of behaviours, and we do it, you know, for for simple things like getting ourselves washed and dressed in the morning, for complicated things like the work that we do, the way that we engage with our colleagues. All of that is driven by having these these kinds of goals. And by the way, most of us are pretty successful, most of the time at doing the things that we want to do. So it’s an awfully good thing that the system is as effective and efficient as it is because our lives are not a complete mess. You know, we tend to focus on behaviours when they go bad. And, and yet, we have to recognise that 99.9% of the stuff we do on a daily basis is actually quite good. And, and I’ll add one more piece to this, which is that the ghost system does this both for behaviours, where there’s some dynamics to the situation, so we have to really be vigilant and attentive to what we’re doing. But it also kicks in, in situations in which we develop habits. And habits are a very special kind of activation of the ghost system, in which we essentially have a memory, in fact, a series of memories that relate the environment we’re in to the behaviour we’re supposed to perform. And when you’re faster just to be able to remember what to do than you are to have to think about what to do, then you can do that thing automatically. And that’s for most of us most of the time, the best of all worlds. I mean, if you think about waking up in the morning, and getting yourself washed and dressed. I mean, how miserable would it be to have to think through every aspect of every piece of that, when you can just do it by remembering the next step. And then you can think about what am I going to do today? And what are my big meetings that I have. And it only gets into trouble in a couple of situations, I tell people a lot, I get a haircut about every five weeks, and I have a place where I go, that opens at seven in the morning. So I didn’t get there before work. And so on the mornings when I go, you know, it’s one of those fancy places where they lie back in a chair and wash your hair and all that good stuff. And so I’ll hop in the shower, but I have to, I have to remember not to not to put any shampoo or anything in my hair that morning when I’m getting a haircut because half an hour later, they’re gonna do the same thing. And invariably, I tell them, I look at my schedule, you know, first thing in the morning, I think, Okay, I’m gonna get in the shower, and I don’t Don’t shampoo your hair and variably I start thinking about other things. The next thing I know, I’ve got my hands in my hair, it’s sudden I’m like, Darn it, I blew it again. Because the habit just kind of runs off one thing after another. And so you know that you know that that’s a reminder that every once in a while that goes bad, but but actually most of our habits are pretty good most of the time. But I loved
Aidan McCullen 15:01
what you talked about when you were saying about how a deer is born with a set of habits. And within a day the deer can walk. And I want to share with our audience there. So art tells us about the energy that the brain uses, whether you’re thinking thinking or not actually uses a huge amount of energy, etc, I’d love you to share their art but also how other animals with smaller brains don’t have that. It takes them time to form these habits. But once they are habits are said it’s quite difficult, because if you think to organisational change, then as well, organisations or cultures, sets of habits that have been successful. And the big problem for many people who work in transformation programmes is all you’re trying to do is reset all those habits. And that’s where the difficulty comes in.
Art Markman 15:50
No, I think that I think that’s right. And so, you know, if we think about it, you know, the first the first thing I want to point out is, you know, you could ask, why is it that the brain forms habits, I mean, what, what what benefit is there to the brain doing that, and what we need to understand is that the brain is an incredibly energy hungry organ. So so it acts it’s about 3% of your body weight, it uses about 20 to 25% of your daily energy supply. And that’s frankly, the the cost of keeping the lights on. I mean, it’s just, it’s all the chemical processes that allow the brain to generate electricity, all of that work is it requires intense amount of energy. And it doesn’t really use that much more if you’re thinking hard versus not thinking so hard. So basically, what you’re trying to do is, is to use the time, efficiently, because time is basically energy in the brains economy. And so what habits do is they minimise the amount of time that you have to think about what you’re supposed to do so that you can focus your brain’s energy mostly on things that are more interesting to think about, and not have to bog yourself down in a bunch of details. And so and so that’s one of the reasons why habits are so crucial for humans. The fascinating thing is, if you look at every other species on the planet, on pretty much every other species, they come wired with a huge number of behaviours already. So that as you pointed out, I tell a little story about having a baby deer born in my front yard. And it you know, it pops out of its mom, it stands up in a day bounds off within a year. It’s a fine upstanding member of the deer community. And, and I was struck by this partly because I just thought it was an amazing thing to witness. But mostly because, you know, at the time I had my kids were teenagers, now they’re in their 20s, even in their 20s. They’re just barely becoming productive members of society. And so why is it that a deer can be a productive member of society in a year or two, and my kids required two decades on the dole before they’re ready to take their place? And the answer is because basically, the trade off that that evolution made is that with animals like deer, there’s just all these stereotype behaviours that they have. And so they’re they’re really good at evading predators, but really bad at crossing the street, or going to the grocery store for food or using an iPad, you know that they don’t seem to do that. And my kids have adapted to the information landscape they find themselves in. And that’s because you basically spend those first couple of decades of your life getting programmed by everybody around you to develop the set of behaviours you need to be able to survive in the world as it is right now. And that’s our adaptation, more than anything else is is to learn from the people around us, and to wire in a bunch of habits that are going to help us to navigate the world. That’s awesome. But it does pose a problem for those of us who want to engage in organisational change because it means that we are going to have to disrupt that goes system that has been exquisitely tuned for this environment, we’re gonna have to step in and mess everything up in order to get people to do something different. And, and that, that is it’s effortful. And and, and you know, if the behaviour that people are going to engage in still works in the short term, it is really hard to get people to change. So one of the one of the bane of modern human existence is the trade off between short term and long term goals. Where there’s a there’s a behaviour that is that has a desirable outcome in the short term, but that that outcome is less desirable in the long term or maybe even negative in the long term. And that the thing you want people to do is to actually engage in the long term behaviour and we see this you know, in personal life, it’s the trade off between that piece of cake versus the beach ready body. It’s the trade off between, you know, smoking a cigarette today which might be pleasurable, but has negative long term health consequences. But it’s also true in the workplace, you know where, you know, nobody, nobody gets to the end of the year and says the highlight of my year is that I answered 31,496 emails. And yet those emails cry out to us, but but we haven’t necessarily ensured that answering those emails has accumulated into anything that matters. And so and so we have, we have lots of situations in which we do the thing that’s right, in the short term, rather than the thing. That’s right, in the long term. And by the way, this has been a problem forever. You know, so I, once somebody once asked me, Well, isn’t this just the modern world drives us to this short term thinking, I said, you know, go back to a very powerful cultural book, the Bible, it’s got a top 10 list, which is the 10 commandments, pull out a couple of them that have to do with follow this religion, rather than that one, all of the rest of them are about do the thing. That’s right, in the in the long term, not the thing. That’s right in the short term, so that person who annoyed you don’t kill him, the beautiful thing somebody else owns don’t steal it, the very attractive person married to your neighbour leave him or her alone, you know, and, and they’re on that list, not because they’re, it’s easy. It’s because they’re, it’s hard to do those things, right. That’s not the you know, and so we have to recognise that trade off has been difficult for at least long enough that it got built into the Bible. And then I also like to tell people, you know, if you’re interested in organisational change, a lot of times, you switch from all of the hard work you do to change your own behaviour to messaging, right, if I could just come up with the right message, then I could, I could make everybody change their behaviour. And, and actually, the Bible is also my example of why that’s not going to work. Because you know, that top 10 list, people do all the stuff on that list. Right now, the Bible is the best selling book of all time. And according to the story, surrounding it, a God God came down and gave us the book, and told people not to do this. So what I like to tell people all the time is look, the list is kind of a failure. So if God can’t come down, and tell people, here’s the message, go do this and have it succeed, what makes any of the rest of us think that we’re just going to give a message to somebody and it’s going to have the desired impact. It’s not actually about messaging, it really is about understanding motivation, and then trying to influence that motivation to get the desired behaviour.
Aidan McCullen 22:32
You mentioned there, the word failure, and it’s, it’s a huge part of understanding motivation, etc. And I loved your points on failure, I thought they were magnificent, where you say there are good and bad ways to fail. So the systematic failures, and then there’s own systematic failures. And understanding either of these is also an important part of creating good habits,
Art Markman 22:54
or there are really three kinds of failures, and only one of them is bad. So the first kind of failure is the failure that occurs when we learn to navigate what’s called the effort accuracy trade off. So we all know at work, for example, that the longer we work on something, the better the job we do. And the problem is, if you put too much work into stuff, then it’s an opportunity cost you you could you may put in too much effort on something and then not have enough time to do something else. So what we all need to learn is how much effort is enough? You know, I always say I’m mistrustful of people who tell me they always give 110% Because most things in life don’t require 110%. They’re required, like 10%. You know, so the trick in life is not always give 110%. It’s give 10% to the things that require 10% 50% of the things that require 50 and then give your all for those rare things that require a polished effort. And the only way to learn where the line is between acceptable effort and unacceptable effort, it’s occasionally to put in too little effort and screw up. Right, so so a lot of times I hear people like I mean, I’m a college professor, and I’ll hear people say to me, Well, you know, students are lazy, so they’re not lazy. They’re just trying to learn where the effort accuracy trade off boundary is. So so they’re gonna put in too little effort. And then you’re gonna have to go back to them and say, No, wrong do work harder on this right. Let me let me explain to you that that you know, where the boundary is here. And I actually tell people to congratulate people on trying to figure out where that boundary is, they’re not lazy, they’re actually legitimately trying to figure out how much effort did this really require. So failing on that every once in a while, to my mind is benign, because if you always put in enough effort, you’re probably putting in too much effort on a lot. That’s one kind of failure. That’s pretty good. Second kind of failure, as I said, is adulting it’s it’s just balancing all the trade offs that we have, that that that you know, I you know, there are going to be days where I’m going to stay late at work or I’m going to miss a family event. Because I have I have worked at Do it there gonna be days when I, I decide to leave work a little bit early because I want to exercise there are gonna be days when I, I’m going to miss a particular meeting with a client because I have to finish this other project, I’m balancing all of the trade offs. And if I do that successfully, then I fail unsystematic ly. So over the long term, I managed to achieve all the goals that are important, but I think given day or week, I’m going to have some failures. It’s really, that situation sort of like my never learning having to having played the saxophone, where I just systematically there was some something important to me, and I never learned to do it, or I never got to it. If I fail at that thing all the time, then if I keep doing what I’m doing, I’m gonna keep failing. So I have to, I have to then change my behaviour. That’s my canary in the coal mine systematic behaviour. Systematic failure, is the place where I’ve got to make a change, or, or I’m gonna keep failing.
Aidan McCullen 25:56
So next in the book, you go into a deep dive into the motivational system. We’ve touched on this, but the motivational system that promotes and sustains behaviour involves two circuits in particular that you tell us about which you mentioned, one, which is the go system, but the other then is the stop system. And you tell us the information that drives the systems to act comes from our goals. And our goals are the desired end states of our behaviour. I thought it was really interesting the way you give us terminology to understand the different parts and how the language is actually important and understanding the deep down understanding of habits, how they form, what a goal is, et cetera, that they’re not too fuzzy, all those things become extremely important. I thought maybe we deep dive into both the growth system and the stop system, because you say, the formula for developing a habit is pretty straightforward. All we need is a consistent mapping. And repetition, I thought that was really important than actually getting your head around what’s mapping and what’s repetition.
Art Markman 26:59
So we’ve already talked a little bit about goals, we talked a lot about engaging energising our goals. Now, when we dig into the habit piece, in particular, you know, it’s there is a formula for habits, which is really nice, which is, as you point out, this idea of there being a consistent mapping between the environment and the behaviour, and then repetition. So the consistent mapping piece is that if the world is always the same, and by the world, I mean, the physical environment around you, as well as your own internal mental environment, when there is consistency between that environment and the behaviour you want to perform, you have the prerequisite you need for developing a habit. So if you think about the physical world, a lot of things in the physical world are unchanging. So you walk into a room, for example, the light switch is always in the same place. So that creates an environment in which you can form a habit and chances are, you learn to do things like flip light switches on in rooms, by, by developing habits. So and you told me, before we started that, you’ve just moved into this, this great new studio, which means that that, you know, there’s got to be somewhere you turn the light on there. And and, and you may still be in the phase of searching around for that light switch when you walk in, because you haven’t quite got the skill down to just be able to do it while thinking about something else. And in those first couple of weeks, you’ve got the prerequisite, the room isn’t going to change its structure all the time, the light switch is not going to be devious and move around from time to time, but But you haven’t got the repetitions yet. So it’s you also need to lay down enough different memories of walking into the room and flipping the light switch on so that eventually you can just do it without having to think about it. And that’s that second piece, which is you’ve got to repeat the behaviour often enough in the environment, which of course naturally leads to the question, what’s often enough? And, and I like to teach people that the answer to every hard question in psychology is it depends. So so because people will say, Oh, I’ve heard it seven or 20 or 50. And what it really depends on though, is how distinctive is the memory? So so, you know, if so, for example, I you know, about 10 years ago, I moved to a new house, and and so I had to change the route that I take home from my office. And there’s a really distinctive intersection on my route home that involves a church where it used to be a church, and now it’s an office complex. So it’s like a weird building. You don’t normally have offices built into a church, but there you go. And so I would say, you know, the, by my third time going through that intersection, I was like, Oh, I turn left here, right. I mean, it just was very obvious to me because it was such a distinctive landmark. That’s kind of the best case scenario for habit formation is a really distinctive situation that reminds you what you’re supposed to do. But the worst case scenario for most humans, growing up in the modern environment is actually basic arithmetic, where you probably spend the better part of your school years when you’re six, seven and eight years old, trying to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, because all of those math facts are really similar to each other. And so you need to get a huge number of repetitions in there before you keep them all straight psychologically. And that’s kind of the worst case scenario. But generally speaking, you give people say, three months, six months, and they get that they can develop habits for situations they’re in, which is one of the reasons why think about for example, in the workplace, when you do something like like Institute, a new computer system for say, say, imagine you put in a new HR computer system, for example. So everybody’s got to fill out their timesheets with the new system, and they’ve got to make requests and a new system, what your you will have, you will have disrupted everybody’s habits in that situation, because they knew how to use the old system really well. And what you know what colour the buttons were that you had to click on the screen and things like that. And so everybody is going to be really annoyed for a while. And and so, you know, one of the things that I tell people is when you’re when you’re instituting some new system, like that could be a computer system, it could be some other workplace habit, you’re changing, because you annoy people, when when you disrupt a habit, I say, look, I tell everybody that they’re not allowed to complain that the system sucks for about six months. Because Because in those first six months, they’re going to conflate the frustration that they’re having not being able to do things habitually, with whether the system is actually well designed for the work that’s being done. And so you got to give everybody enough time to use the system so that they know habitually how to do things that that all settles down, that they get enough of those repetitions in, and then you can evaluate is this system, in fact, allowing people to do things efficiently now that they’ve learned to do it, but you got to have a moratorium on complaints for three to six months, because otherwise, otherwise, people are going to complain, and they’re legitimately going to be frustrated, but they’re frustrated, because they have to build new habits, they’re not frustrated, because the system itself is inherently flawed.
Aidan McCullen 32:29
I think that’s such a core point. And also the art when you when you think about everybody, individually, they have all a different tolerance for change and habit formation, and flexibility were habits, flexibility of mindset, etc. But oftentimes, when a big change, like that happens, like you said, even me moving into a new studio, I need to kind of settle and you kind of not as used to things and it’s a little bit uncomfortable, it’s normal, but when you know, that’s normal, then you accept it. But what happens is when you have a legacy organisation, for example, there’s a collective dis ease throughout the organisation. And that’s often what overwhelms people. Any advice on people who are working in change in that respect,
Art Markman 33:15
I mean, I think you have to prep people for it, you have to let people know that what they’re going through is completely normal. You know, and I think for people who there are a lot of people who really crave a certain degree of security, there’s a one of the one of the core personality characteristics is one called openness to experience. And people who are open to experience are really tolerant of that disruption of things that enables them to try a new thing. They may not like it in the end, but they but they’re willing to kind of engage in that novelty. People who are on the closed end to experience they actually crave the security of knowing exactly what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. And so the world gets less predictable, when you put people in a new situation. And if you have an entire organisation that is organised around that kind of conservative approach of we’re going to make very few changes. When you suddenly throw open things for change, you’re gonna have a lot of people, some of whom it’s true by, by personality characteristics. Some it’s just true, because that’s the way the workplace has always been that now. It’s really disconcerting. And so a lot of what you end up having to do is to is, is to start by telling people, Look, let me tell you what’s going to happen. We’re going to make this change, and you’re going to hate it. You’re gonna hate it, I know you’re going to hate it, and here’s why you’re going to hate it because none of your habits work, you’re going to feel really inefficient. Your brain is actually telling you there used to be an easier way to do this because remember, the brain is is operating on an energy economy. It doesn’t want to do something that it perceives to be a waste of energy and so it throws out a little alert. Are you, you know, you know who you are wasting energy. And, and so you’re, you feel that as frustration because you used to be able to do this efficiently and now you can’t. What we’re telling people is, look, ignore the alarm, it’s not a sign of anything, except that you have to settle into a new set of routines. So discount the feeling of frustration, that feeling that something’s wrong, let it set let it you know, relax about it and just recognise that this is a completely normal thing to do. You know, if you need to go out to the pub after work with your with your colleagues and complain about it, you know, do it, but do it in a light hearted way knowing that this shall pass and and that after a few months, this will become the norm again. But you have to normalise that for people they really need to No, this is this is totally expected this is this is in fact the sign that things are going well. You should tell people look, if if if I make a big change like this, and you feel nothing something is wrong, because you’re probably not doing something sufficiently differently. Well, one
Aidan McCullen 36:11
of the important factors, some of the terminology that’s important here that may translate again into these kinds of changes is, for example, the reward system. And then the other one that’s really interesting, and we see this on a personal level all the time, oh, I’m gonna go to the gym, I wanted to go before work, but I leave it till after work. And then I have ego depletion. And by the time I want to achieve that goal, it’s too late, I’ve used up all my cognitive energy.
Art Markman 36:38
So let’s start by talking about the notion of the reward system. This is actually a funny thing, because it a lot of books on habits get this wrong. So So and this is because a lot of books on habits get written by people who aren’t actually psychologists, so they they miss read something really important. Back in the day, when when neuroscientists were trying to study the biology of habit creation, you know, all you can do when you’re studying the brain is particularly if you’re using animals, and you can’t ask them stuff is you get them to do something, and then you measure things that are going on in the brain. And then all you can do is correlate stuff that happened in the brain with stuff that was happening out in the world. So So if you’d say you’re getting a rat to learn to do some new thing, the way you generally get a rat to do something, because you can’t ask it is is that they do a particular behaviour, and then you give it a reward. So a little bit of chocolate milk, which is you know, rats love. And so you, you give a little chocolate milk, and that’s its reward. And that’s basically what what that tells the rat is oh, do that again. And it’s basically a signal. Now Now the problem is that, that what the what the brain is really learning is not Ooh, that was really pleasurable, but rather, an unexpected pleasurable thing happened. So it presses a plug, right say presses a bar. And then And then suddenly, this, this rewarding drink of chocolate milk comes. And what from the rat’s brain standpoint, what it’s learning is, is that an unexpected outcome happened, let’s, let’s try and figure out how to make that happen again, so that it becomes predictable. And in fact, what you see over time is that the signal that you get to the chocolate milk declines over time, as it becomes predictable, that that’s what what happens when you press the bar. The problem is that neuroscientists early on called that the reward signal, this this little firing in the brain that would cut would occur when this unexpected reward happened, they would call that the reward signal because it was correlated with the reward. And if you just read it that way, you think, Oh, this is the signal in the brain that happens whenever a rewarding thing happens. No, it’s It’s the signal in the brain that happens when an unexpected rewarding thing happens that signals the brain learn this, because this brings about a desired outcome. And so and so what that suggests is, oh, I you know, what happens is a lot of people say, Gosh, I guess every time I learn a new behaviour, I have to just continually reward it. You don’t really need to continually reward the behaviour what you need to do is is just to make sure that there’s some outcome that that is desirable and that CO occurs with the behaviour often enough that you get the habit so for example, you develop habits to turn the light switch on in a room there’s nothing inherent you don’t get like a shot at chocolate milk. Right it’s something inherently rewarding about the light coming on. What happens is you flip the light switch on and even though your cognitive brain all the cortex knows. Yep, I’m doing that because I’m trying to turn the light on the the kind of really old brain systems that support your habits that are buried way deep in the brain. Those those dark Don’t really have access to the, to the outcome that you’re trying to bring about. So you flip the light switch and the light goes on and your brain, your lizard brain piece goes, Whoa, cool, that was unexpected. And so it says learn that again. And so and so you keep getting that reward signal up until the point where you get to like the 80 of time you walk in the room, you flip the light switch on, and that motion leads to the to the light going on, and then you get no signal anymore, because that’s, that’s a totally expected thing. And then, prior to the advent of all these LED light bulbs, when you’re when you’re incandescent bulb would burn out once a year, you know, you’d get that alternative experiences, you’d walk into the room, and you’d flip the switch on and it would like go on for a second and then flame out. And that you’d actually get another reward signal there. Because you because again, that’s the thing that would make you orient to a gun, well, that’s weird I, that usually makes the light go on. So So you know, it’s that’s a, that’s an aspect of the way brains work that, that we really are looking for unexpected outcomes from our actions to learn those so that we can build a new set of habits if we need to. Alright, so the brain is just constantly using that kind of circuitry to figure out, Okay, let me lay down another memory here, because this might be really useful for me, in order to be able to develop a habit
Aidan McCullen 41:22
closely related then. So we’ll come back to ego depletion, maybe in a second. But closely related to that was something that I found really interesting was, because I’m not really good at this. And oftentimes, I’ve been criticised by mentors, or perhaps accountability partners would be a new need to celebrate the small wins more, and I was delighted to read your book, you’re like, No, don’t over celebrate those small wins, because you kind of normalise them then a little bit as well. So you want to be celebrating the bigger goals as well, maybe we’ll share a bit on that. And then ego depletion
Art Markman 41:57
to start with, we got to recognise that there are their goals occur, there are different levels of of granularity of goals. So so there are goals, like, you know, if I, if I have to, you know, get a new client, part of what I need to do is send some emails and have some calls and have some meetings, each of those individual things are what you could call an achievement, they’re the kind of thing you can tick off of your to do list. The contribution you’re trying to make sort of the big picture thing you’re trying to accomplish is to land a client. And so and so you do all of these very specific actions in service of landing the client. If if you celebrate each of the little things, right, then for one thing, you just you at some point, you’re like, what, what am I just I just had a phone call, like, well, yay, I you know, it says it doesn’t feel like that much of a celebration, but also ringing the bell. Right, exactly. And then suddenly, some of these some of these little actions now you begin to think, well, I should just have lots of phone calls, I may never land a client, but I had a lot of phone calls. That’s no good either. So So part of what we want to do is to really pick and choose and say, you know, when I when I actually reach a particular contribution, then celebrate that. I mean, we should take moments, you know, when you land a big client, or you finish a big project, or you know, then absolutely, you know, take the time to celebrate that. I mean, we’re taping this in May, which is the time of year when college students begin to finish their academic year. And in later this week, we’re going to have our commencement ceremonies at the university. And heck, yes, celebrate that, right. I mean, take the pictures, you know, put on the cap and gown, go to the ceremony, you know, throw your hat up in the air and party all weekend. Right? That’s, that is a huge accomplishment. But but you know, they we shouldn’t necessarily celebrate Oh, you finished an assignment. That’s, that’s lovely. Now, I want to come back to the other thing we said, because there’s another piece of the motivational system, I want to make sure that we have the time to to get into into today, which is I’ve talked about the ghost system. And if you’re going to have a ghost system, you’re going to have to have a stop system. And there is a stop system, which is every once in a while that ghost system engages in action, it might be a habit, it might be another behaviour, it engages that goal, but you don’t actually want to perform the behaviour. So for example, you know, you’re sitting at your desk and you see on that little badge on your email programme that more email has come in, which sets the goal to check your email programme. In fact, you know, I’ve got another window up on my screen next to me here and my email programme is up. I have unanswered emails in that and so there’s a certain piece of B that’s getting not that no check your email, but I can’t because I’m doing this podcast. So so I have to engage a second brain set of brain mechanisms that runs through The frontal lobes of the brain, your brain sort of looks like a pair of boxing gloves set the wrong way around and, and the frontal lobes of the brain are the fingers of that boxing glove glove sort of at the front of the brain. And there’s there’s some there’s some brain regions called the orbital frontal cortex, if you’re a sort of poke up through your eyes, you would land in the order orbital frontal cortex, I don’t don’t actually recommend doing that. And the brain circuitry that runs through there as part of, of what’s called an inhibitory system, it basically stops actions that your go system has engaged. And so so if so, I’m, I am successfully not checking my email right now, because my stop system is getting in the way. The problem with the stop system is that it is effortful to engage. So it requires really paying attention, which is the reason why when I when I am showering before my before, before I get my hair cut that I’m I don’t I’m not devoting any energy to stopping myself from shampooing my hair. And so I suddenly find myself with with, you know, sudsy hair, and upset at myself that once again, I have forgotten to allow my hair to get shampooed at the salon. But, you know, there’s there’s also so it’s effortful, but it can also be impaired in lots of ways. So it’s stress, you know, we’ve all had days where we’re really stressed out, and then and then we end up doing something we’re not supposed to. So you know, you’re driving in your car, and, and you’re, you know, somebody cuts you off, and you’re running late. And so you’re stressed out, and you yell at the driver in front of you and make all sorts of splendid gestures, Adam, and that’s, that’s that’s your, you know, you’re unable to stop yourself because stress is impairing that, that stop system. So stressful, do it, you know, substances like alcohol. So you know, everyone knows somebody if they’ve never done this themselves, who’s who’s who’s had one of their less fine moments under the influence of alcohol, because because they’ve impaired that stop system, and they do something they’re not supposed to. And then and then you you alluded to this notion of ego depletion, which is, is another interesting element, which is if I, if I spend a whole day controlling my behaviour, so for example, suppose I’ve got, you know, a colleague, who has been annoying me all day. And I know I’m not supposed to yell at my colleagues. And so I successfully refrain from yelling at my colleague all day, despite my colleagues continued annoyance, I get to the end of the day, and I just can’t stop myself from doing the thing that feels right in the short term. So yeah, maybe I was planning on going to the gym. But now the end of the day comes and I’m like, you know, what, I’m just, I’m just going to go home and do something fun, you know, or, or, you know, I get home and that that single serving carton of ice cream leaps out of the freezer and onto my lap, because I’m just done, I’m done trying to regulate my behaviour. And so, so, that stopped system is way less efficient than the goal system is and and then just to put this all together for a moment, what that really fundamentally means is, if I want to change behaviour, my own somebody else’s no matter what it is, the real way to frame that is I am trying to reprogram the ghost system. So that it is focused on desirable behaviours, whose accumulated action leads to the big picture contribution that I want to make. I do not want to ride the brakes all the time, I want to I do not want to be in a position in which the only way for me to succeed is continually to put myself in harm’s way. And then miraculously to stop myself from doing the wrong thing. That’s that’s just that is a recipe for disaster. And I know when we get back together to talk more about this, a lot of what we’re going to do is to dig into the various tools that we have, that I talked about in the book that we can use to actually reprogram that ghost system rather than relying on the brakes,
Aidan McCullen 49:31
brilliant art and great timing as well just before art has to go as an engagement. But one last thing just to share with our audience and perhaps they can go and download a copy because it’s really important as part of all your work to be able to journal this and art kindly offers a smart change journal as well. Aren’t maybe you’ll share a thought about that and where to find it.
Art Markman 49:55
behaviour change is hard work. There’s lots of things you want to step through them. You’re gonna have to identify The contribution you want to make, you’re gonna have to, you know, work through various steps, you’re going to take all the things that we’re going to talk about. And and so I put together as part of the book, a journal that I call the smart change journal and I do make that available as a download free of charge. I have a I have a website smart thinking book.com. And and if you go to the smart change tab of that of that website, you can find the smart change journal, download a copy, that’s, that’s absolutely free for anybody who wants it. And it’s just a great way of beginning to think through some of the specific things you need to do if you’re trying to change behaviour and, and just to tease a little bit of where we’re going with this next, you can actually fill that journal out in a way that that allows you to think about changing somebody else’s behaviour as well. So if you’re actually in the game of organisational behaviour, rather than filling it out as if it’s a behaviour of your own, you can fill that same journal out and think about what are all the things I need to do to influence the behaviour of other people.
Aidan McCullen 51:05
Beautiful, a great way to finish part one, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, author of smart change five tools to create new and sustainable habits in yourself and in others. Art Markman thanks for joining us. Thanks so much. Nice man. Absolutely brilliant episode quickfire. I know compared to some of our recent episodes, but we will be doing a part two coming very very soon. With Art Markman absolutely love his content is storytelling. The books are also fantastic. I want to thank our sponsor Zai. Before we finish up today, zei is boldly transforming the future of financial services with a suite of embedded products and services empowering businesses to manage multiple payment workflows on mu phones with ease, you can check out firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll see you next week.