Change Requires Buy-In

Wooden scrabble tiles that spell out "Yes we can".

I was having a conversation with my dad and my cousin the other day about one of my dad’s co-workers. From the conversation they hypothesized that most workers would only ever change their working habits if they were told to by a higher-up and not due to a suggestion made by a peer or someone they saw as less qualified. And while I think there is a point there regarding pride and respect for authority, my mind went down a different route.

I think most people don’t change based on anyone’s suggestions, as well-meaning as they may be. Not because of pride or lack of respect, but because external ideas — especially unsolicited ones — have so little impact on our view of the world. They simply don’t have the weight of the conclusions we come to on our own, because at their core external suggestions don’t come with the full context of our lives. Even if they turn out to be right, it’s hard to take seriously a suggestion from someone who doesn’t know us the way we know ourselves, that is to say from anyone else.

When it comes to changing ourselves or trying something new the very first step is full buy-in. If we don’t believe in the change and in our ability to make that change, we’re bound to fight it consciously or subconsciously, and fail.

The little story about the worker before addressed the first point, believing in the change itself. Someone who respects authority, seniority, or experience is more likely to take to heart advice from someone in those positions because they assume that the person must know best. They’re likely to ignore advice from a peer or someone less experienced than them. But they’re most likely to succeed at implementing the advice if they agree with it or it matches up with their own view of the world somehow, if they believe in the change being suggested.

But there’s a second part of buy-in, and that is believing in our own ability to make the change. I’m sure most people have heard someone say “this is just how I am, I can’t change,” or something like it. I’m sure some of us have said it ourselves. Trying and failing to change is frustrating, and each failure builds up a fear that we’re powerless to improve ourselves or our lives. We learn to protect ourselves from failure by rejecting change and no longer trying. But then we’re stuck, unable to grow or learn.

There are a lot of factors that can help us learn or re-learn how to change and how to try again. But a major one is that change often occurs among other people. We might not take others’ suggestions of how to change very well, but having people around us who support our efforts and believe in our success, is key to achieving change.

“[W]e do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. [And] belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”
⏤ The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

So next time you want to try to make a change in your life, or want to try out a suggestion you got that actually sounds like it might work, make sure you have a community around you that believes in you. Somewhere you can celebrate your successes and be encouraged when you have setbacks.

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