Here's the dilemma: Change requires a different mindset, but the brain loves routine.
We naturally organise our thoughts around patterns and mental maps that have been developed in our thinking throughout the course of our lives.
Sometimes these maps are helpful; sometimes they're not. Most change requires that we challenge our mental maps and form new connections in the brain – and this takes a lot of energy and motivation.
Singular facts also have little effect on mindsets. If you've ever read comments on social media or argued with someone over a heated topic, this probably isn't news to you. If the fact doesn't fit the current mindset, it gets rejected almost instantly.
Humans love habits, not changing them
What is it about our brains that resist change so tenaciously? Why do we fight what we know to be in our best interests?
It's because our thinking relies on our mental maps, not facts. Neuroscience tells us that each of our mindsets – the long-term concepts that structure the way we think – is instantiated in the synapses of the brain.
In his research, expert on brain plasticity Dr. Michael Merzenich, found that mental habits actually showed up on MRI scans. While studying flute players, he discovered that their brains had developed larger representational areas that control the fingers, tongue and lips. Flute playing had physically changed the brain.
This is exactly why your mindset is not something that can be changed after someone tells you a few facts. And it's not just the flute players.
We've all developed thinking preferences and mindsets that have changed our brains. The cumulative weight of knowledge, experience and the mental maps that have formed make it very hard to change our minds.
How to change your mind (or someone else's)
OK, so changing definitely isn't easy, but it's not impossible either.
If you're leading change, adapting to new ways of doing things or facing a major shift, start with these five change management techniques:
1. Know where they're coming from: Changing mindsets starts with understanding what someone's natural thinking preferences are. The greater the shift involved in the change, the more energy and motivation will be required. That's why this has to be taken into consideration as part of any change management initiative.
2. Visualise it: If you're trying to get buy-in from someone else for this change, visualise what that person will ask, what they'll say and what they'll worry about. This will ensure you're prepared to respond. The brain doesn't necessarily know the difference between visualisation and reality, so if you're facing a big change yourself, this is a great way to "try on" different perspectives, get comfortable with them and make them a reality.
3. Define your goal: When you need to make a big change, write down your goal and post it somewhere you'll see it constantly. This continual reinforcement is essential to helping you remember why you're making a change in the first place. Use this technique with others who need to get on board with change, and personalise it when possible to showcase the goals that matter most to them.
4. Use the buddy system: Work together to help each other stay accountable. Be conscious about keeping an open mind to different perspectives and recognise that diversity of thought can help you push through your mindset barriers.
5. Make a plan: Set milestones for yourself and your team. This way, you can celebrate some of the changes you've made and figure out where you're succeeding, where you're struggling and how to improve moving forward.
Change is always around the corner, and it's a consistent challenge. We know it takes time to overcome a long-accepted mindset. But we also know you can control the way you respond to change and how you set the stage for others to deal with it.
If you're leading and managing change of any kind, start by grounding yourself and each person involved in the change process in an understanding of your mindsets and thinking preferences. From there, you can use your own inherent diversity of thought to avoid the mindset traps we're all susceptible to as you navigate new change and uncertainty.
Ready to make a big change? Download our free change management whitepaper today to learn more!