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Bodies in motion - a really simple theory of behaviour

Human behaviour

I’m really excited about a fundamental idea. One so basic I never thought about it before. It’s quite a radical concept, and I’d love some feedback. The idea is that humans are bodies in motion. It's a fundamental, universal observation: humans are busy. 457912538.jpg It’s extraordinary what can be derived from this one simple idea. First, human motion must always follow a path through the real, physical world, as we travel, shop, move about the house, work, farm, socialise. Secondly, our paths have destinations that promise satisfaction. Every journey is aimed at a place where we believe a desire or need or frustration can be satisfied. Thirdly, we choose our destinations conservatively. With high levels of motivation and/or high self-efficacy we are up for adventurous destinations. But when our motivation and/or self-efficacy are low, we stick in the easy, low risk, familiar destinations (a.k.a. the rut of habit). Fourthly, the actual path followed depends on the environment or landscape. The landscapes we move through have numerous pushes and pulls. Difficult paths inhibit motion. ‘A push or pull’ involves a potential fork in the path where each fork has different degrees of familiarity, certainty, self-esteem, and cost. Naturally, people tend to make whatever choice is most familiar, most certain, least costly, and adds most to self-esteem. Fifthly, a change project always involves changing people’s destinations. And that means changing paths. A shopping trip is a good example. We start off just aiming to satisfy imagined hunger but the supermarket is a landscape full of pushes and pulls that influence the food-acquiring path we follow and the products we end up taking home. Also, there is a degree of serendipity exposing us to new products along the way, creating the possibility of spontaneous path variation. Then, what if a fruit and vege store pops up just next to the supermarket? Now a major path variation is likely, and a different set of take-home products. This model gives us a simple theory of change. A successful change project must:

- credibly satisfy a desire, need or frustration;

- increase motivation (motivation is often blunted by remoteness in time and space of consequences. If that’s the case, logic doesn’t work: instead focus on the impact on people close to us, on fairness, on social proof, on passion, and urgency);

- increase people’s self-efficacy or confidence to perform the necessary journey (so they can see exactly what they’ll need to do along the way); and

- modify the environment to make sure the path to the destination is as effortless as possible (familiar, certain, adding to self-esteem, low cost).

I like the idea of bodies in motion along paths because it pulls us down from abstraction into the real physical world that people actually inhabit, where we can readily devise prototypes and perform experiments. From now on, the ‘thinking’ part of the Changeology training will have three lenses:

- Bodies in Motion ('path theory')

- We hardly ever change alone (Diffusion of Innovations)

- The risk perspective (denial, resistance, and how to avoid them)

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