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What to do when people ignore the facts.

Updated: Jan 17

My son disagrees with my doctor.

I made the mistake of telling my microbiologist/immunologist son about my latest physical. I like my doctor, he’s funny and laughs at my attempts at humor. My son wanted to know my cholesterol results, so I read them off. I told him that my doctor had said that “one of them is a bit high, but the overall balance is good.” My son fixated on the “one is a bit high” part.

Without going through the details, let’s just say that my son thinks my doctor should have told me to exercise way beyond the 15 minutes of stretches I’m willing to do. He should have insisted on my doing something aerobic. I should have been told to avoid cookies and everything else with eggs, milk, or butter in it. Evidently, cardiologists agree that this is the way to good health. In other words, my doctor’s strategy was too soft, and he should have used more facts to scare me just enough to change my behavior.

However, I think my doctor understands human nature. I like sweets, not sweat. He gave me small steps, things I might actually do, rather than set the goal at something I wouldn’t even attempt. His strategy is completely supported by studies on how people change. As Alan Deutschman says in his book “Change or Die”

We like to think that people are essentially ‘rational’- that is, they’ll act in their self-interest if they have accurate information. We believe that ‘knowledge is power’ and that ‘the truth will set you free. But nine out of ten heart patients didn’t change even when doctors informed them about what they had to do to prolong their lives.

Fear, facts, and force do not inspire constructive change. Humans have 47 different defense mechanisms and biases, and they all kick in as soon as we hear or see anything that might be a threat to something we value. We forget what the doctor said – just erase it from our minds. We downplay the risk. We convince ourselves that we don’t want to live longer if it means sweat and no sweets. We can talk ourselves into a completely different reality from the one a specialist paints.

That doesn’t mean that people can’t change. It means the strategy used to help people change needs to be different. People need someone who can break things down into doable small bits and then walk with them as they try to implement those small things daily. It’s not quick and it’s not without several opportunities to learn from defeat along the way. It’s a commitment of 3-5 years minimum.

What does this mean for congregations? What aerobics don’t they want to do? What sweets don’t they want to give up? For many congregations, their current way of being the church will likely produce a lot of uncomfortable aches and pains and an imminent death. Pointing that out doesn’t help. Walking with them, helping them take each next faithful step toward a more vital way of being church does.

There’s hope, for me and for your congregation.

Free Resource on this theme:

The free resource this month is about how to minimize bias and defense mechanisms in a congregation. It pairs well with port or sherry – and with the other free resources on Leading Change and Motivation.

Work with us!

We can teach you and a team from your congregation how to motivate change in your congregation. You pick the change you want to see, and we'll use it in the workshop.

Click on the "Workshop" button and then scroll down to the "Motivating Change" workshop.


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