Changing Bad Behavior Requires Turning Up The Heat

“One must be willing to be uncomfortable to have a future unlike the rest.”

Well said, Toni Stone. She’s referring to the second major force that brings out the best in people. She’s referring to heat.

As I said last week, “People change when they see the light or feel the heat.” And I gave you a few strategies for turning up the light.

But there are those people who aren’t terribly affected by the light. They need to “feel the heat” or experience the pain before they change. They won’t change until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of making the change.

Dr. Martin Broken Leg, a professor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, talked about the pain factor in a lecture I was attending. He mentioned a school that was having problems with the 11-year old girls who wanted to wear makeup. After they applied their lipstick in the school bathroom, they would kiss the mirror to see if it looked okay. Of course it left lip prints all over the mirror, which was a lot of work for the janitors to remove.

Even though the girls were told to stop leaving their lip prints, even though the girls had been “enlightened” about the necessity of changing their behavior, nothing got them to change. Then the principal decided to apply some “heat” to the situation.

The principal decided to show the girls how much work they were leaving for the janitors. So he brought them all into the bathroom. A janitor took a big brush, dipped it into a toilet, and began scrubbing the mirror. Needless to say, there were no more lip marks on the mirror. The girls had “felt the heat.” And they immediately changed their behavior.

What can you do to turn up the heat? How can you get people to change? Come to my Peak Performance Boot Camp this October 27-28 in Minneapolis, and I’ll teach you so many strategies that you’ll wish you would have come to the Boot Camp years ago.

Here’s what Sheila Fitzgerald, from U.S. Department of the Treasury, had to say: “It’s been several months since I attended your Boot Camp, and I have to say it has made a tremendous improvement in my life. Even though my life has lots of stress, I learned a method to deal with the stress that makes me happier, more productive, and better received by my peers and supervisors. Several people have commented on how peaceful my office has become. Besides all that, I learned how to set goals and achieve goals. I went back to school, registered for the winter quarter, and started class. I started exercising with my husband at the local YMCA and lost 25 pounds. I dramatically improved the way I listen to my staff and my peers, and my attitude has certainly improved. Thank you very much for the super positive changes!”

But in today’s Tuesday Tip, let me give you a couple of ways you can turn up the “heat” and bring out the best in others.

=> 1. Expose People To A Good Dose Of Reality.

That happened to me this last week. I was speaking in Las Vegas and decided to look up some old family friends that I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. But I had some very good positive memories of them, camping and fishing with them when I was a kid. Besides being a truly nice couple, as a kid I thought they looked and dressed like the Las Vegas movie stars I had seen on TV.

I was a bit saddened and shocked when I entered their home. I didn’t expect to see the old, frail, somewhat debilitated people I saw.

And I thought about my father Gene, and I thought about my mentor Dr. Sidney Simon, both in their 70’s and 80’s. By contrast to the old family friends, my father and mentor are in great shape. They take no medicine, do whatever they want, and look 10 to 20 years younger than they are.

I had been exposed to the heat of reality. I left my visit, glad that I had reconnected, but also recommitted to my goal of eating right and exercising frequently. I was reminded that the temporary satisfaction of “pigging out” does not compare to the blessing of a long and healthy life. I knew, once again, that I was making the right choice by carrying my Labrada nutrition products with me — and eating them — rather than junk food — when I’m on the road.

In a similar sense, if you want people to do something, if you want to motivate or change them, you’ve got to expose them to a good dose of reality. Don’t’ pull your punches.

In an organization, for example, you may have to expose people to the progress your competitors are making. You may need to give your people a wake-up call. Show them how costs are rising and profits are shrinking. Bombard them with information about lost customers or stagnant growth — whatever — until they can no longer ignore the problems that need fixing.

=> 2. Give People Some Time Pressure.

That’s why deadlines often work. Without some time pressure, students may never turn in their term papers. And employees may never implement those new strategies. Time pressure turns up the heat.

One of my heroes is Winston Churchill. He understood the dynamics of change. He said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” He understood the necessity of getting people to change and getting them to change now.

Does your organization understand that? Do you have a plan to COPE with all the changes in your industry? Or do you have a plan to WIN? If it’s the latter, you’d better understand the use of time pressure.

Likewise, do you simply have a plan to be GOOD? Or have you charted the course to be EXCELLENT?

Professor George Dantzig talked about the way time pressure brought out his best. He said as a student at Berkeley years ago, he had studied hard for the exam. And he arrived at the classroom late, picked up a copy of the exam, and solved all eight problems.

Then Dantzig noticed two additional problems on the blackboard. He tried to solve them, but he couldn’t. So he told his professor, “There’s a couple of problems I didn’t get finished. May I have a little more time?”

The professor said, “Sure, George, but you only have until Friday at 4 p.m. No later.”

Dantzig knew that someone else would solve all the problems, so he worked on those two final problems day and night, all week long. He finally solved them and left his paper with the professor’s secretary at 4 p.m. on Friday. And George went home exhausted.

The next morning. Dantzig heard a loud pounding on his apartment door. It was his professor. He said, “George, you made mathematics history.”

“What do you mean?” Dantzig asked.

“You came late for the exam. You didn’t hear me tell the class that the exam was only 8 questions in length. I put those last 2 problems on the board and told the class, ‘I’ve enjoyed teaching you. Now if you want to keep playing with mathematics the rest of your lives, play with these unsolved problems. Even Einstein couldn’t answer them.’ But you solved them George. I’m here to offer you a job as an assistant professor.”

Dantzig later said, “If I had been on time and heard the professor say even Einstein couldn’t solve those problems, I wouldn’t have tried to solve them.”

And I might add, if the professor hadn’t put some perceived time pressure on George, George wouldn’t have worked so hard. A little heat can often bring out the best in others.

Give people a dose of reality. Put on a little time pressure. And your change efforts will be more successful.

Action:  People often deny the need for change. You can break through the denial by giving people a wake-up call. Give them a dose of reality.

Look at a change you’re trying to implement in your organization. And then write down three examples of reality that necessitate this change. Perhaps your organization is losing market share. Or maybe your employee turnover is too high. Whatever. Write down three things and figure out how you will “expose” your people to these doses of reality.