“What did you learn about God this week?”
That’s how I used to start conversations with a friend I’ve been mentoring for awhile. I could have started with “So how have you failed this week” or “did you follow through with reading your Bible every day.”
But I didn’t. I was more interested in knowing what he was learning than with checking up on certain behaviors.
He reminded me of that question the other day as we were talking about Switch, the new book by Chip and Dan Heath. As we started our 2010 meetings for coffee and hot chocolate and conversation, we decided to work our way through this book.
Helping people change
Why? Because both of us are interested in helping people change, including ourselves. As Chip and Dan point out, “Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: can you get people to start behaving in a new way?” (p 4) We need counsel. And this book is it.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard is a book about bringing about change, particularly when change is difficult. They identify three critical elements of any process or program of change: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Said in less vivid language,
“For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but theur hearts and minds. The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently.” (p 5).
As we work our way through the book over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some notes here from our conversations. (If you want a brief overview, go to this video review of Switch as a whole from Chris Brogan.)
Finding Bright Spots
Their first strategy for directing the rider, for engaging the head, is to find bright spots. In moving toward change, rather than spending so much time on what’s wrong or how it happened or who is at fault, someone making a switch will look for what is working, for some example of the kind of behavior you want.
Chip and Dan identify the Miracle question: “If a miracle happened overnight and your problem were solved, what’s the first small sign that would make you think the problem was gone.” And then they identify the Exception question: “When was the last time you saw the miracle, even for a little bit.” (from p 36-39).
We all know about positive reinforcement: looking for good behaviors and reinforcing them. Dan and Chip seem to be going beyond simple care plans and behaviorism. They say, in essence, “engage the people you are helping to change in the process of identifying the good behaviors. Help them think about how things could be better, different.”
Going back to my question above, here’s how it illustrates the “bright spots” approach:
My friend has had plenty of accountability. He knows the rules and the principles. I’m not interesting in helping him keep spiritual rules. What I’m most interested in is helping him learn, in this case, about God in a relational way. When I help him think about his learnings, regardless of how they came about, I can help him think about how he learned that idea or fact or principle. I’m helping him find successes in growing in relationship, even if it comes in failing at certain behaviors.
But it’s easy to see failures
As we talked, he said “This assumes that there are bright spots.”
I understand his comment. As we look at behaviors, we constantly focus on failures, in ourselves and in others. We run our heads into the wall, thinking “I’ll never get this. I always fail.”
Even as I’m writing this post, I got an email from a friend, remarkably gifted in caring. He’s struggling with believing that to be true.
I understand that struggle. So do you.
But if we are going to change ourselves and the people around us, we need to look for the bright spots that show that we are changing, that there are starting places that are working.
So what do we do?
If you want to stop wasting time browsing on the Internet, finding a bright spot means “Make a list of 2-3 times you turned off the computer and were incredibly creative.” If you want to help your kids stop fighting, finding a bright spot means “make a list of 2-3 times they cooperated.” If you want to get people to be more proactive about accessibility, invite them write definitions of what accessibility means to you.”
As we keep reading, I’ll keep testing the approach that Chip and Dan describe. I’ll let you know what we learn.
For now, what didn’t I explain very well about bright spots?
Above and following is an affiliate link for the book. If you order it, I’ll get a little money (but it won’t cost you extra.) Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.
I also need to tell you that the copy I have is an advance copy I was sent because I requested it. I requested it because I was a fan of their previous book, Made to Stick. However, I will be buying my own copy when the book comes out in February. (And a handful of copies for other people.)