Driving to the office on a Thursday morning, you pull into your regular parking spot, unclip your seatbelt, and start walking to the door. “Wait, how did I get here?” you think “I grabbed my coffee, slightly remembered turning on my engine, and now I’m here.” Walking into the office your mind begins to churn as you recall the meeting you led last month on drafting documents. You wonder, “Why isn’t that changing? Was anyone listening? Am I the only one working to integrate the new system?” Despite working in the system every day, little has changed, and you can feel your blood pressure rising.
Habits are anything but simple.
Neural pathways are rivers that run through your brain that help you understand the world, automate your behavior, and respond to common occurrences. The more consistent the habit, the stronger the connection, the deeper the riverbed. It’s your “default” if you will.
Brushing your teeth was very difficult at age two, now you brush your teeth while planning your entire day and barely notice rinsing the brush before placing it back in the cabinet. Changing neural pathways isn’t easy. So while you gave your assistant the new filing system or intended to stop by the gym on your way home, changing that autopilot to re-engage your brain and try something new, will take more than verbal or cognitive assent.
Automated responses make up over 40% of our everyday behavior (1). You don’t think about how to brush your teeth or where to set your coffee cup. You just do it, which is essential for saving mental energy. What if you had to decide your morning routine step by step every day? Will I stretch before or after I use the bathroom? Coffee now or in an hour? In what order do you brush your teeth, pick out your clothing, dress yourself, eat breakfast (what do I eat for breakfast)? Ok, you get the point, automated decisions help you focus your mental energy on what really matters.
Changing habits requires diving into the automated and reordering the flow of that river of energy. The brain learns “This worked last time” and will default to previous success. However, when you’re adjusting a system, say your consultations or how you work with your team, you have to prove to your brain “This change is better than the old way.”
Let’s be real. You’ve never tried it, so maybe it is better, and maybe it isn’t. Each person is unique. Some of us are more apt to take risks, others may need all of the information before moving forward, and many of us live in the middle. This is why we do assessment testing with all of our new Members.
Where are my high fact-finders? Your inertia will keep you stuck until it’s too painful to maintain status quo. Flexibility in personality is an asset here. But we can outsmart ourselves. Looking back we can say, “I know I “feel” change won’t be better, but I also changed this (insert change) last year and it’s been massively helpful!” Thankfully the brain is smart. It knows that if the predicted result is more attractive than the current output, change might be worth it.
Decisions are made in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus where much of our reason lives (2.). However, recent studies point to the influence of the amygdala, where emotions reside in, decision-making (3). This is where your emotions live. We all, especially the practical types, love to believe our decisions are rational. The current data shows us that all decisions are emotional. We feel this is the best option, so we do it. We then find reasons later to support that feeling (4).
“I know my brain doesn’t want to change. I don’t feel like changing, so how do I change or encourage others toward progress?” I’m so glad you asked!
- Knowing yourself and your team is the first step. Completing your PXT Select and Kolbe A are a great first step in discovering more about you and your team.
- Recognizing the need for change, which is a really nice way of saying “Houston we have a problem.” Unless you’re one of the rare few who like changing for the sake of change, the first step is acknowledging you want things to be different.
- Engage with your trusted advisors such as your practice building coach, partners, and office manager.
- Identify the specifics of your situation.
- Where are your bottlenecks?
- What is the end goal?
- How do you want to get there?
- What resources or materials do you need to achieve your goal?
- How much time will the process take?
- How will you know if you are successful, what are your measurable outcomes?
- Establish a new vision. Nelson Mandela once said, “Action without vision is only passing time. Vision without action is merely daydreaming. But vision with action can change the world.”
- Communicate the vision repeatedly in multiple forms to build ownership, understanding, and momentum. This is true regardless of who is involved in the change. Everyone around you needs to be invested in the vision.
- Celebrate small wins! This informs you and the team, “We are on the right path, keep going!” This positive feedback will encourage new neural pathways to form as attempts become habits and successful habits become routine.
- Double-check your results. Regularly check on your milestones and “how it feels” to gauge tangible progress and office morale. Expectations should be set for any new process to feel arduous, awkward, and likely inaccurate at first. Over weeks and months, the “new” becomes smoother until it’s second nature.
Just like learning to ride a bike, when we see the benefits of faster, more efficient travel the risks of falling become worth it, and we pick up the handlebars. Yes, scrapes and bruises will follow, but that’s not failure it’s simply learning.
Goal setting isn’t a good business model to ensure measurable progress. Goal setting aligns your vision, so in the midst of pain, I mean change, you can see what’s at the top of the mountain. Keeping your eye on the prize will propel you forward; toward making the changes bit by bit to achieve those goals.
Failure is tuition you pay for success. Courage and consistency pay dividends. Want to change your firm? Change your mind. Be the commander of your mind, learn when your feelings betray you, and choose the new. Ready to take your firm to new heights? Schedule a call with your PBC or if you’re not yet a Member, reach out to our Membership Consulting team to learn more about how the Academy can help you reach beyond what you thought was possible!
- Duhigg, C. (2023). The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House Trade Paperbacks.
- Saberi Moghadam S, Samsami Khodadad F, Khazaeinezhad V. An Algorithmic Model of Decision Making in the Human Brain. Basic Clin Neurosci. 2019 Sep-Oct;10(5):443-449. doi: 10.32598/bcn.9.10.395. Epub 2019 Sep 1. PMID: 32284833; PMCID: PMC7149951.
- Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin Books Ltd.
- Voss, C. (2017). Never split the difference. Cornerstone.
Sieff, J. (2023, February 14). The Neuroscience of Behavioral Change: Why Intention, attention and persistence matter. Notre Dame News. https://news.nd.edu/news/the-neuroscience-of-behavioral-change-why-intention-attention-and-persistence-matters/
Berkman ET. The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change. Consult Psychol J. 2018 Mar;70(1):28-44. doi: 10.1037/cpb0000094. PMID: 29551879; PMCID: PMC5854216.
Practice Building Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128