Resistance Driven by Old Habits

As discussed in the post on Guiding Abstractions habits are basically well-learned solutions to recurrent behavioral situations.  They allow efficiency and free advanced thinking to consider new issues.  So, they are useful.  But, they get in the way of change.  Fortunately, they are not a major impediment to change.  For the most part it is simply necessary to give time for new habits to be formed.

If old habits are tied to beliefs or personality then change may be more difficult.  But it is the belief or the personality issue which makes them hard to change.

We change habits frequently.  If roads change between home and work we adapt to a new way of getting between the two.  For a little while we need to spend more time thinking about where we are going, but in relatively short order this passes.  If a habit is complex – like a golf swing for example – then a habit can be harder to change.  Also, the closer the new situation is to the situation which produced the old habit the more difficult it is to change the habit.  This is why changing a golf swing takes some time.  The goal is still the same – to hit the golf ball.  And the activity may be nearly identical.  So there is a tendency to drop into the old habit.

If a situation is truly new and there is no way to go back (likely learning to drive the new car you just purchased) then new habits are formed rather quickly – from a few to a few dozen exposures to the situation.  However, if a situation is only subtly different from the past and it is possible to go back to the old way then it may take weeks or longer for a new habit to become fully developed.

If an organization is changing and wishes to have its personnel change to new systems then some time must be allowed for new habits to be learned.  During the time of forming the new habits productivity will fall because new behavior requires more thinking and there are more errors.  This is normal behavior for forming new habits.

If personnel don’t feel this normal reduction in productivity is being allowed then there will be resistance to change on this basis.  Good management will look at the nature of change being required, allow variability in the rate that individual staff form new habits, and then allow adequate system time for new behaviors to be set in place.

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