When you are a trainer or a coach, working with individuals or teams, and you are helping clients learn something new or do something new, what you really want is to make sure that learning lasts. And often it doesn't. So how do we help our clients, our learners to make change stick?
First of all you need to know that when we as human beings learn, we need to practice, practice, practice. It is probably not a surprise, but that is 'The Thing'.
But how do you get your learners to practice?
How do you help them do what they need to do, so they are ingraining this new behaviour in their brain, in their bodies, and in their habits?
How do you help them get back to a place where it is second nature, or at least comfortable?
The four things that help people to make change stick are motivation, commitment, self discipline and structures. You can use these as guidelines. I am going to go through each one.
Of course if we are motivated we are going to do something. Motivation creates neurotransmitters in the brain that tells us, "Okay let's go do something." Motivation is exciting. We will practice if we are motivated.
I know that as a coach myself I have worked a lot helping my clients be motivated. You can create visions, create ideas, get in line with values and life purpose. All that is really motivating and it helps a client move towards something that they are motivated by.
Motivation creates neurotransmitters in the brain that tells us, "Okay let's go do something."
But motivation is not enough.
Motivation uses the emotional brain which is a great thing. That in itself is not a bad thing. It is just that the emotional brain is not consistent.
For example, if somebody decides that a change they want to make is getting up at five in the morning to exercise instead of sleeping much later. If that is not already a habit, then it might be a big change for them. So you can get them motivated, "I am going to do this exercise programme, I am going to look like this at the end of it."
That is great and they might be motivated when planning it, but at five o'clock in the morning motivation is not readily at hand. There will be other emotions that are stronger like, "I want to stay in bed," or "I’m tired." Those will be the overriding emotions of the moment.
Motivation gets us started on a path and identifying things we want to, but don't count on it to be enough to get people to practice.
What they really need is commitment…
Commitment is essential for having people practice more and more and more.
Five o-clock in the morning, a person has said they want to get out of bed. It is going to work better for them knowing that they have committed to this. "Okay I’ve committed to this, I know I'm heading in this direction." That is going to go a lot further at that difficult moment than some kind of motivation that they had the day before or the week before.
So how do you get people to commit?
It is actually quite simple in a way. It is simple for them to realise, "This is the thing I want to do. I am making a declaration!"
They might write it down and sign it. That is a way to commit. Here is a signed piece of paper — it actually tells the brain, "Yes I'm going to do this."
You could have people stand up and cross a line. "This is a line of commitment I am crossing, yes I am going to do this thing."
You could have people call ten of their friends that they are doing this thing. Or announce it on social media.
These kind of things express commitment and help us create a pathway for, "Yes, no kidding, I am doing this. That is exciting... or not, I am still going that way."
The third is self discipline. Even if your learners set this road that they are going on and they are committed to this pathway, you know that motivation might be really, really, really low and their commitment might flag up a little bit.
So how do you help them have the power within themselves to get themselves moving? To get themselves past the low motivation and do what they don't feel like doing in that moment?
This comes from a different part of the brain. While motivation comes from the emotional part of the brain, both commitment and self discipline come from the prefrontal cortex.
This prefrontal cortex is a very advanced evolved part of the brain that makes us very human, and the job of the prefrontal cortex is too set goals, stay committed, stay the path, and also manage our emotions.
If you get the prefrontal cortex involved in setting the commitment and the self discipline you have a much higher likelihood of moving towards those goals, those changes, implementing the learning.
While motivation comes from the emotional part of the brain, both commitment and self discipline come from the prefrontal cortex.
Have your teams or your individual clients learn self discipline. It is not an easy thing. A lot of us didn't learn it growing up. We had lots of freedom and self discipline kind of fights against freedom. (Ultimately it gives us more freedom but that is another discussion for another time.)
To help people with their self discipline, have them start small. Have them make one choice that they consistently make over and over and over again. "No I am not choosing that way to go to work, No I am not choosing that thing to eat, I am going to eliminate that thing." Practice that.
Build the strength of self discipline. It is like a muscle. It needs to be built, and practiced, and strengthened.
The fourth thing that will help with making learning stick is what I call structures. These are more practical things that people can do like: Put something in the calendar or diary; create time in a day, create time in a week; Find other people to commit with. So if they are going running early in the morning, "How can I find a running partner?"
If you are committed with somebody and have the structure of a date and a plan, you are more likely to follow through because you have committed to somebody else.
The structure of a partner is very powerful. Our brain is a social brain. We are oriented towards other people. We are much more likely to follow through on plans if we have got those partners.
If a team or a group of people are learning something new and you want them to implement it, have them get in accountability groups together. This peer pressure that gets created in those accountability groups is incredibly powerful. They support one another and they create plans together. Much more likely to do things.
Our brain is a social brain. We are oriented towards other people.
To sum up, we have motivation that comes from the emotional brain. It is great to get things started, get people excited to say, "yes I want to do this."
You have got commitment that will help them create a pathway, "Yes I am going this way, I have declared that I will."
Then self discipline that will help people follow through, follow through, follow through from their own internal strength.
And we have got structures which are about really creating those external things that help people follow through — and I would really consider having people have partners, have other people involved in those structures.
So that's it. Use those four things and you will go far with helping people learn, helping people make their learning sick, helping people make change stick.
This piece has minor edits for clarity.
Lori Shook, a Master Certified Coach since 2001 has partnered with us to produce the Coaches Going Corporate video course. You can sign-up for a free taster here