Feel Powerless to Get Yourself or Others to Change? Think Again.

It was one more book recommendation, one I figured I had no time to read. But then I saw it in audiobook form at the library, a definite sign to me to check it out. I did. I listened and was enthralled with Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m excited to share some of their best ideas for making our environmental work easier and more effective.

This book is about managing any sort of change, from oneself to society, and we can use its tactics to get people to do more to protect the Earth. The authors say we have to do three things to get people to change:
1) Direct their rational side
2) Motivate their feeling side
3) Shape the path

I can’t share all the fascinating research data, stories and examples in the book of how and why this works, so I encourage you to read or listen to the book. But here are the main strategies they suggest for each area.

Direct the rational side. Research shows that people often don’t act because they don’t have clear and simple directives. So we need to script the critical behaviors we want them to adopt and not give a paralyzing array of choices.

Secondly, follow the bright spots. Don’t focus on the problem, but find out who’s doing the desired behavior, find out why, and seek to replicate it. For instance, if only a few people in your congregation recycle their old electronics, find out why and how, lift that up for emulation, and see if you can get others to follow suit.

Thirdly, make the destination clear. People change when they know what the goal is and why it’s worthwhile.

Motivate the feeling side. People seldom change simply because of learning new facts. They change when they feel something. So we somehow need to stir their emotions, and that happens through more right-brain experiences—visuals, music, stories, etc.

People won’t change if they feel overwhelmed, so we need to shrink the change, break it down into small chunks they can succeed at, which fuels hope and a willingness to embrace greater change.

Help people change their identity and their behaviors will follow suit. Creatively do everything you can to get everyone to see themselves as environmentalists or caretakers of God’s Earth.

Shape the path. Researchers have found that when you change a situation, the behavior changes. We often think people are lazy or don’t want to do the right thing, but sometimes it’s just a case of impediments getting in the way. So we can tweak the environment to make it easier for them to change. For instance, at our church we promoted recycling of old Christmas tree lights by providing a bin right where they walked by. They were coming to church anyway and this made it easier for them than taking the lights to other drop-off sites. Needless to say, the bin was overflowing.

Figure out ways to shape the Earth care habits of people. Once actions are habitual, they are much easier to do. Researchers found that people have a limited amount of discipline to do the right thing, and habits don’t tax this reserve.

Build on the group mentality. See if you can get good actions to be contagious. People are influenced by peer pressure and example.

You can use these ideas on yourself, in your family, in your Green Team planning, at your workplace, and in your ministerial settings. The book will show you how all these strategies worked almost miraculously in unlikely and challenging real-life situations. It will spark your creativity to do something similar in your spheres of influence.

If you consciously adopt any of these principles, I invite you to share your successes (and failures, also part of the growth process) with me. We’d like to start compiling these stories to share with others. Email me at carolm@ssckc.org. Blessings, fellow change managers!