One my mentors, the business coach Arnie Rintzler, wrote to me after reading one of my newsletters. Arnie often writes nice notes to me about my posts, and this time he had nice things to say, adding, “…there is a missing element. You focus on behavior when there is much more leverage when we move upstream and focus on that which precedes behavior.”

I arranged a time to speak with him on the phone so I could understand what he meant.

He asked me what I did when I wanted my kids to do better back when they were in middle school and high school.

“I would tell them to work harder at it; to put in more hours studying and less time on Facebook,” I replied.

He asked if that worked.

When I said it hadn’t, he repeated what he had said in his note, “There is very little leverage when you focus on behavior, but if you focus on the attitude that creates the behavior, you can be more successful.” For example, to get a salesperson to make more calls, rather than telling her to work hard, ask her, “How much do you want to earn?” “Why?” “If you don’t earn that money, what will be the issue?” “What is standing in your way?” (In his work, after drawing out that kind of information, he then asks, ‘’How can I help you?”)

He said most people understand what they need to do, but they don’t do it. “We let the short-term outweigh the long-term. We sleep instead of exercise, we eat Dunkin’ Donuts instead of a salad.” In order to make progress, then, we need to get to the bottom of what is keeping us from the desired behaviors.

“Humans resist change,” he continued, “and we are asking them to change behavior. We need to create a situation where they can see what the benefit will be from making the change, which will help them to become emotionally invested in the benefit.”

I knew Arnie was right. Two of my kids did not study a lot in high school. Their decision-making tended to be short-term—choosing to have more fun and do less work. (I could relate. I was similarly disposed at their ages.) In college, however, they both became self-motivated and did extremely well.

Arnie explained, while what we did to try to encourage them in high school didn’t feel successful, in the long-term the messages had sunk in and our kids ultimately assumed our values. If we had pressed too hard, they would have put their energy into resisting us. (Some kids go so far as to purposely flunk under that kind of pressure.)

Just after my conversation with Arnie, I heard a similar message about behavior change during an episode of The Ezra Klein Show podcast. Klein, one of my favorite interviewers, spoke with Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, the first psychologist to run a major jail (Cook County, IL).

Jones Tapia works with the inmates to help them understand why they commit crimes—what is behind the behavior that got them in trouble—because, like Arnie said, understanding what drives your behavior is critical in order to create behavior change. Jones Tapia believes this will reduce the chance of recidivism.

What are some changes you would like to make? Why? If you don’t make those changes, what will the issue be for you? What is standing in your way?

Arnie and I agree: just thinking about the answer to these questions is powerful, because our thoughts influences our lives.

Please answer those questions, and join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,