There is no formula for changing behaviors
We like formulas!
They provide comfort; assurances that our efforts won’t be wasted.
When learning something new and stretching outside comfort zones, formulas form safety nets so we won’t royally screw things up.
If you’re a little compulsive like me, then formulas are also great for their precision and exactness.
Plus, the validation of getting it right can’t be beat.
Unfortunately, when it comes to changing behaviors, there is no formula.
And that is scary as hell.
There are many frameworks and theories and processes and methods.
And there are many steps you should take, and re-take, to follow those processes.
There’s also a ton of research you can conduct and absorb to learn more about the behaviors and the audiences.
But there’s not a single formula that will produce a guaranteed changed behavior at the end.
Nor should there be.
Each situation has its own set of nuances and circumstances and considerations that require a unique strategy.
Not every audience is the same.
Not every action or behavior we’re asking for is the same.
Not every context in which the behaviors take place is the same.
Which is why a single formula is not sufficient to tackle the complexities of human behaviors.
Instead of a formula, we get options.
We have to pick and design a strategy and set of tactics to try.
I know it’s not easy.
It leaves us feeling unsure about whether we’re making the right decisions.
We start to feel like we’re just guessing.
And it sucks not knowing if something is going to produce results or not.
This is when we need to have some trust in the process. (TL;DR: be skeptical of formulas; trust the process).
Creating tailored strategies isn’t just picking ideas out of thin air. They stem from lots of research, best practices, decisions and insight.
Tailored, unique strategies take everything into consideration:
- who you’re talking to
- what you’re asking them to do
- what’s going on in their world
- how you can motivate them to do the behavior
- when & where you can communicate with them
Each and every situation will be different and will require more or less than others, will be a shorter or longer path to change than others, will be simpler or more complex than others.
And I totally get how these nuances can feel overwhelming and can make us wish we just had an f’ing formula we could follow.
No formula means no right answer.
The goal of designing a tailored strategy isn’t to find the one right answer that will create change. That doesn’t exist!
The goal is to put the most audience-informed, audience-aligned, problem- and need-solving option into action so we can begin to move the needle.
As we put the strategy into play, we’ll monitor if it’s gaining attention and traction.
Then we’ll continue to evolve and adapt the approach. Since it’s likely we won’t completely nail it on the first try.
And even when we do nail it, it’s never static.
Humans and behaviors and contexts are forever changing.
So, pulling the next move out the hat (a.k.a. the list of options) is always going to be part of the process.
And we get there by recognizing the context, understanding the audience’s world, and tailoring our strategies accordingly.
A side tangent: why & how I teach options
Two years ago, I decided to start offering training workshops and courses because I wanted to help environmental practitioners access more options when designing behavior change programs.
I saw how overwhelming the amount of research, theories, papers and frameworks were to busy practitioners.
I saw how limiting and incomplete the behavior change formulas were, leaving practitioners without a plan B when results didn’t materialize.
And I wanted to help more people get savvy about selecting which options they want to start with and try, and feel confident in their choices.
This is why, in the Making Moves course, we spend time understanding the ‘why’ behind everything.
Not just what social proof is – for example – and how it works, but why it works.
Followed by when and where it works better than other motivators, and – again – why that’s the case.
We do this for 10 different motivators, 12 different deterrents of change, and all the options for message frames, image choices, calls-to-action, communication channels and more.
I know we won’t nail it right away, or even all the time. And that’s OK.
Because the goal is to get comfortable creating more strategic, more audience-aligned, more context specific efforts that will start and grow your conservation movements.
If that sounds like fun, then I hope you’ll join the course some day.