Do you agree with the following statement?
“You can’t think your way into a new way of acting, but you can act your way into a new way of thinking.”
We do. Here’s why:
In order to change a behaviour (acting), first, you must change a belief (thinking).
Here’s the perfect example:
You can’t lose 10 pounds just by thinking about it. If this was true the secret to losing ten pounds would simply be to hold the belief: “losing ten pounds will be the best thing for me”. Many of us already think this, and most of us still need to lose ten pounds even if we have been ‘thinking’ about it for a long time!
The science is nicely explained by a metaphor developed by Jonathan Haidt and introduced in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. Recent brain research has determined that we have a rational part of the mind, the conscious part which he calls the ‘rider’, and we also have an emotional part or subconscious mind which he calls the ‘elephant’.
Rider: Rational & conscious
Elephant: Emotional & subconscious
The research also has discovered that although we might ‘think’ we are making rational decisions – that is, the rider is in control of the elephant; the truth is actually the reverse. The elephant decides most of the time and then the rider comes up with a good reason to justify the elephant’s emotional and subconscious decision.
The ‘elephant’ part of the brain also does not understand deferred gratification. It doesn’t understand the rational thought that losing ten pounds will be best in the long term. The elephant decides to eat the chocolate chip cookie for instant gratification and then the rider comes up with a good reason why the elephant did it!
If you try to think your way to a new way of acting, you are basically asking the rational rider to think in a new way or consider a new belief. This is a nice thought but it doesn’t change the behaviour of the emotional elephant.
Retrain your brain
When you decide to “act your way into a new way of thinking”, it means you are starting to work on retraining the elephant. This requires providing an emotional stimulus and immediate reward for the elephant to act differently from its current established behaviour.
It is not always easy, but once you at least understand where to start, making a change becomes possible.
Haidt provides some very detailed and convincing research in his book. Since its publication, Chip and Dan Heath have taken the concept and expanded upon it in their book, Switch. They suggest you have to:
- Direct the Rider (new thinking)
- Motivate the Elephant (new acting)
- Shape the Path (make it easier for the change to happen)
We recommend getting this book or checking out the resources on the Heath Brothers website.
If you are ready to take action right now, we have already ‘baked in’ these principles into our tools and methods for business owners. Please feel free to reach out to us… We don’t actually call it, “training your rider and your elephant brain for business health and wealth”, but maybe we should?
What do you think?