What makes people change forever

People only change for two reasons - with this strategy

Only half of all Germans actually implemented their resolutions last year.

Humans are by nature an opponent of change and therefore hardly make any effort to break out of their routine.

Experts identify five conditions that are required for people to resist their natural urges and implement change.

The start of a new year can be pretty sobering. Often a few days are enough and all of our good resolutions are gone. A research team led by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman found out in a study back in 2012 that human willpower is far too weak to really persevere with new resolutions. 88 percent of his test subjects at the time failed because of long-term implementation.

In Germany, things don't look much better. According to a Forsa survey from 2018, only 37 percent of people in this country started with new resolutions in 2019. Of these, only half implemented what they set out to do. In the total bill, that was just 16 percent - a figure that is not far removed from Wiseman's balance sheet a few years ago.

What is often misunderstood: Man is by nature an opponent of change, in every situation in life. He feels comfortable in the status quo, both professionally and privately, and therefore hardly makes any effort to break out of his routine. Psychology professor Angela Duckworth, one of the world's leading scientists in the field of human behavioral research, is even convinced that people repeatedly make wrong decisions, even when they know they are wrong - solely because they are used to them to choose what they choose.

The key to success: Pain and Gain

In general, there are only two factors that move us to a lasting change in behavior: Pain and Gain. These two terms have established themselves in research.

Pain, the English term for pain, stands for an escape from the threatening negative consequences that would result from remaining in the current state.

Suppose you have made up your mind to quit smoking in the New Year: the sheer motivation to just stop doing it will probably at some point be weaker than the cravings for nicotine. Your brain is conditioned to reward, you cannot escape it at all. Theoretically, the health risks would have significantly more potential to dissuade you from smoking. Regular nicotine consumption dramatically increases the likelihood of developing cancer. If you are serious about your health and want to give up smoking for this reason, you are fleeing from a potentially fatal disease. This willpower is much more likely to change behavior.

Pain doesn't have to be something in the future, it can also be something very real - at least for someone who is already feeling pain in the here and now. Take a partner whose relationship has gotten so stuck that it only makes them unhappy. He really wants to run away. For him, a separation out of a feeling of pain can be like a relief.

The opposite of pain is gain. People who change things in their lives on this basis follow a call. They expect so many personal benefits from something new that they embark on the often uncomfortable path of change.

For example, if you have firmly decided in 2020 to quit your job and work elsewhere, you may do so with the prospect of a better salary - or in the hope of expanding your range of tasks and responsibilities and thereby improving your career to realize more.

Change is inevitable - especially for companies

The American J. Stephen McNally has dealt extensively with the interplay and interplay of pain and gain - especially from an economic point of view. As the finance director of the electronics group PTI / Phoenix Contact, which is rooted in Germany, he wrote a highly regarded guest article in the specialist magazine "Strategic Finance" at the end of 2018. It was about the ability of companies to change. The title was: "Business Transformation: No pain, no gain?"

McNally's message: Changes are always time-consuming, expensive, hard and painful - but they are inevitable, especially for companies. "Even for companies that are doing well today, the next big change is lurking around the corner," McNally warns Business Insider.

"Those who are unwilling or unable to accept change will fall behind with their organization."

Companies that are driven by sales, balance sheets and share prices are finding it difficult to prepare for the future and initiate a corresponding change. Basically, that's what unites them with the rest of society. Before people get involved in challenges and face unexpected obstacles, they prefer to keep their hands off them. Change processes, McNally complains, often fail because of the "inability to execute". This applies to decision-makers in corporations as well as to private individuals.

In order for change to really succeed, and in a sustainable manner, McNally advises pursuing opportunities - and not being inhibited by dangers and risks. “You have to draw a vision of it, a positive picture of what the future can be,” he says. That gives us a spirit of optimism - and, at least for companies, a feeling of solidarity. “You need to win the hearts and minds of your employees, get them to participate in the change that needs to be made, and make them understand that they are key to making it happen,” says McNally. Because as a result, employees in companies sometimes change positively as a personality.

Neuroscientist Duckworth and her team of researchers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Pennsylvania universities are pursuing precisely this individual approach to change. Duckworth and Co. have named five conditions that are required for people to resist their natural urges and embrace change.

This article was published by Business Insider in January 2020. It has now been reviewed and updated.

5 conditions to really make change happen

5 conditions to really make change happen

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