Change thinking first then behaviour- or the other way around?

People sitting together.

When I did my undergrad, I was interested in neuroscience. It was this interest that led me to Japan. I worked in a research hospital in Akita looking at medical images of the brain. I thought, “this is the control centre of everything that goes on in our bodies, if we can change the way this works, we can change our lives.”

Over time I have questioned the completeness of this view. We cannot deny what goes on in our brains, the thoughts and perspectives we have shapes and alters how we perceive the world, the way we act and react. Though increasingly, I have seen a very powerful feedback loop that challenges this perspective for me.

In the context of cultural transformation, what we are actually looking for is behavioural change at a macro level. People changing the way they make decisions (how they ‘think’), the stance they take in getting the job done (how they ‘be’) and the way they go about doing it (how they ‘do’). Most of the thinking in this space is about changing how we think and see the world, like mindset, and then the behaviour will change. I think this is absolutely true and undeniable, though I wonder if we can do both at the same time.

I’m exploring whether behaviour can be changed first, followed by the thinking. I’m listening to the audio book version of Turn the Ship around by Cpt David Marquet and he describes this technique the way he transformed the culture on the Sante Fe, a nuclear submarine in the US Navy. He did this by changing little behaviours, even before he had achieved a mindset shift across the leaders and crew. An example of this behaviour change was the three name rule. The intention of this change was to instil a sense of pride and belonging to the Santa Fe.

unsplash_Ms.Sue HuanAn example of the three name rule is this. When visitors or inspectors came aboard the ship the crew would welcome the visitor by name, introduce themselves and welcome them on board the Sante Fe. So for me in my context that would sound like, “Hello Jane, I’m Melis, welcome to Huddle.” This behaviour change was introduced early on in his captainship and it was at a time when morale on the ship was still relatively low. He introduced this with the support of the Chiefs as a way to instil a sense of pride in his crew.

It also relates to the tiny habits model of social change as described in B.J Fogg’s work. That it takes little changes, done consistently over time, that have an over arching, long lasting, significant impact.

Perhaps this is where the “fake it ’til you make it” colloquialism comes from, and perhaps there is some truth and power in the authentic version of this sentiment, which I might iterate to be “Do it ’til you think it.”