Everything in the world around us has changed. But have you? Has your team?
Here’s the challenge: Change requires a different mindset, but the brain loves routine. It naturally seeks and organizes around patterns and mental maps you’ve developed in your thinking throughout the course of your life. 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 energy and motivation.
Not only that, isolated facts have little effect on mindsets. This probably isn’t news to you if you’ve ever read comments on social media or argued with someone over a heated topic. If the fact doesn’t fit the current mindset, it gets rejected instantly.
What is it about our brains that resists change so tenaciously? Why do we fight, even what we know to be in our interests?
Well, it’s because our thinking relies on our mental maps and mindsets, 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 Dr. Michael Merzenich, an expert on brain plasticity, found that mental habits actually showed up on MRI scans. In studying flute players, he found that their brains had developed larger representational areas that control the fingers, tongue and lips. He could see that flute playing had physically changed the brain.
This is why mindsets are not things that can be changed by someone telling 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 and experience and the mental maps that have formed make it very hard to change your mind.
How to change your mind (or someone else’s)
OK, so it’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change someone’s mind. If you’re leading change, need to adapt to new ways of doing things or are facing a major shift, start with these 5 change management techniques:
- 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 that will be required. That’s why this has to be taken into consideration as part of any change management initiative.
- Visualize it: If you’re trying to get buy-in from someone else for this change, visualize what that person will ask, say and worry about so you can be prepared to respond. The brain doesn’t necessarily know the difference between visualization and reality, so if you’re facing a big change yourself, this is also a great way to “try on” different perspectives, get comfortable with them and make them a reality.
- Define your goal: When you need to make a big change, write down your goal for the change and post it in a place you will see every single day. That constant reinforcement is essential for reminding you why you’re doing it and for keeping it top of mind. Use this technique with others who need to get on board with change as well, personalizing it to the goals that matter most to them.
- Use the buddy system: Work together to help each other stay accountable to a new way of doing things and be conscious about keeping an open mind to alternate perspectives and the diversity of thought that can help you push through your mindset barriers.
- Make a plan: Give yourself and your team the gift of setting milestones. That 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 go from there.
Change is always around the corner, and it’s always a challenge. It takes time to overcome a natural mindset that’s probably been years in the making. But 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. Then 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 take the next step? Get more essential change management techniques with our free white paper!