Old Habits Die Hard – How To Make Lasting Change

Have you ever heard yourself saying of your team “How many more times do I need to tell them?” We tell them how we want things done, they do it once, and then as soon as our back is turned they are back to their old ways.

And we are often guilty of this ourselves. We try to implement a new regime, a more effective way of doing things, and despite being pleased with the results after a few days or weeks something gets in the way and before we know it we’ve reverted to our old habits.

As a leadership coach I hear of this happening all too often. So just how do you get to a point where doing something new or adapting to a new approach or way of doing things becomes the norm and makes lasting change?

Getting a balance

According to Anthony Robbins there are six human needs which make us do the things we do. Of these there are two which are going to explore today: those of certainty and uncertainty. You might well be thinking at this point that these two needs are in conflict with one another, but let’s put this into context.

Everybody needs some kind of stability and certainty, for example in a work context this means doing something a certain way to produce a specific result. If we didn’t have this element of certainty in our lives we would have to rethink every single situation we encounter.

On the other hand if everything was certain and predictable, life would be incredibly dull and we would stagnate as a result. People need to change and variety to exercise their body, their mind and their emotions. In a work context we might do this by trying out new approaches, taking on other tasks, or even changing our job.

The challenge is to get a balance between these two human needs.

When we make changes in the workplace sometimes the element of uncertainty overrides the certainty; we don’t have a good balance between the two. Think back to changes within your own business and the effect it has had on different people. The old way has a predictable result. It’s comforting and reassuring. Anyone who’s tried to give up smoking or eat more healthily can relate to this as it’s so easy to go into automatic pilot and accepted a cigarette or choose that chocolate bar instead of the healthy alternative without even thinking.

So how can we introduce a degree of certainty into the changes that we want people to make?


The first step is to have a very clear outcome. This is more than just a goal; it means creating very specific outcomes that people can visualise or anticipate what the outcome will look like, sound like, feel like. The more vivid this is the easier it will be for people to recognise when what they are doing is working correctly, they will notice what approaches are leading to the results you want opposed to those that get the wrong results.


The second element of success is to be able to recognise the reason for the change. Why is it important to change; what’s in it for the individual to change their approach? Without this people won’t even try to change. Sometimes this might not be a direct benefit but it might be highlighting the consequences if we don’t change. So a positive outcome might be that it’s quicker, less effort, more tips, more sales. On the other hand there may be no direct positive benefit but the result of not changing may be, for example, getting left behind, legal action, guest complaints.

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