Around this time each year, many people are lured into writing down changes they would like to make in the coming year – the infamous New Year’s Resolution. If only writing a behavior change down made it so!
We call things that come before a behavior that are meant to prompt or spur behavior, antecedents. Some antecedents are pretty effective and others, like the New Year’s Resolution, are often forgotten before too long. Why do some work and some don’t?
Let’s think about antecedents that work well. I believe most people would say the following antecedents are pretty good at influencing our behavior: Mortgage payment deadline, plane flight information, fuel gauge, movie time listings, and driving directions.
Those that don’t work as well might include: Prompts to read long agreements before installing software, complex standard operation procedures, motivational speeches, company values and, of course, New Year’s Resolutions.
What makes the first set of antecedents more likely to influence our behavior than the second?
The answer is consequences. In the first set of antecedents, there are clear and immediate consequences for following or not following them. For example, if you don’t look at your flight information you will probably miss your plane and if you don’t look at your fuel gauge you will likely run out of gas.
For the antecedents that aren’t as effective at influencing our behavior, the consequences aren’t as clear or immediate. For example, if you have ever agreed to a policy without reading it when installing software, has anything negative happened to you? Do you even know your company values?
So, if one of your resolutions for this year is to keep the rest of your resolutions, your best bet is to associate your desired behavior changes with some clear and immediate consequences.