How to Change Behavior

“If you want to change a mind, simply talking to it may not be enough.”


In a story about how what teachers do can influence what they believe and consequently improve student performance, reporter Alix Spiegel looks at the results of research being conducted at the University of Virginia.

While many commenters focused on the impact on student performance in the research, I was more intrigued by the connection demonstrated between action and beliefs in the teachers. 

Something we all understand is the notion that our beliefs influence our actions. What I think, what I know, or what I think I know, determines how I act. 

In an oversimplified way, the study seems to show us something else: trying to change what someone thinks by giving them loads of new and compelling information will not necessarily get them to change what they do.

No matter how good your data is and how skilled you are at telling the story in that data, the information itself is often not sufficient to change behavior.

This has interesting implications for any of us who work in the change business (and who doesn’t these days?).

If you want someone to change the beliefs that drive their behavior, start with the behavior and watch the beliefs adapt.

The actions I take influence how I think about the world. How I behave can shift what I believe.

This story shines some light on the two-way nature of the mind-body connection. Each enhances the other.

In our over-rationalized, Cartesian world, we often forget the power and impact of physical acts as a tool for influence and change.