Motivation Alone Won’t Change Behavior

No matter how motivated people are to change behaviour, they can’t if they don’t know how.

As influencers, we love to motivate people, but what about the question of ability? Can we honestly expect people to make positive changes in their lives if they haven’t yet developed their personal ability?

Zia Terry, a ten-year old girl facing her first 40-metre ski jump, proves the necessity of personal ability.  Through the lens of her helmet cam, we get to experience the big jump along with her.

She psychs herself up, “Okay, fine. I’ll do it. Well, here goes something… I guess. You can do this! I’m going to jump… oh no, my ski is slipping.”

Her coach chimes in, “You got it. Remember, never snow plough.”

“No snow plough.”

“Keep it straight and you’ll be fine.”

“Do you go faster on the in-run?”

“A little bit.”

“Is it any steeper?”

“Same steepness. Just longer.”

“Just longer. Just a bigger twenty, that’s all.  Okay… Here I go!”

She takes the hill and makes the jump flawlessly! Seeing the shadows of both hands raised in victory we hear, “YEAH! Sixty seems like nothing now!”

Zia’s coach motivated her.

Zia’s coach encouraged her.

But before he influenced her to go down the slope, he trained her. Zia had the personal ability to make the jump successfully before the motivation began.

As influencers, we know motivation is a big part of change, but we often miss the other side of the model — ability.

Ability is a profound factor in influence. Those whom we’ve studied across the world over the past 30 years — who are the most effective at influence — start by developing ability. They start by building skills.  They first remove the barriers to accomplishment — then they motivate.

Teaching the right skills is vital to influence.

What happened with Zia? She had the perfect enabling experience. She was first trained, then she was motivated.

The strongest influencers involve people in “deliberate practice.” That’s hands-on practice of skills under realistic conditions.

If you want someone to increase their capacity for a healthier behavior, help them develop their personal ability. How?

How You Can Help Others Increase Capacity For Healthy Behaviour

1. Use a practice setting that approximates the real world

2. Practise in small bites

3. Focus intensely for brief periods of time

4. Provide immediate feedback

Zia learned under the ideal context for skill acquisition. She first practised on smaller slopes for brief periods of time with plenty of feedback from her coach. Then, she took on the bigger feat.

Organisations that thrive and develop a healthy culture spend an enormous amount of time with coaching and feedback under fairly realistic conditions. Others that only offer messages but no practice find their influence limited.

As we influence others, we must move beyond motivation and first make sure people have the ability necessary for success. Never ask someone to change without equipping them with the skills to do so.

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