Tribe Culture Change | Get in the habit
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05 Mar Get in the habit

You do not have direct control of most of your behaviour. Whilst we might like to think that we determine our own choices, most of the time the decision is made for us.

What I mean by us in this case is our own conscious thought – that’s the clear-thinking, logical, human part of our brain, yet what controls most of our behaviour is the pre-programmed, emotional, animal part of our brain called the sub-conscious. Most of our behaviour occurs as a result of instinctive reaction; it has to be we’re not capable of using conscious thought to analyse every situation that arises.

This is perhaps easily recognised during routine activities such as driving. When we learn to drive it takes a huge amount of effort to master the wide range of controls, maintain good observation in all directions and make choices at junctions and roundabouts. Once we’ve mastered this complex task we just do it without thinking.

Brain with a switch

Most people reading this will have automatically put on their seat belt last time they got in their car. For those of a certain age I’m sure that this was not always the case, but now it has become a habit, you do not need to think about it.

The same goes for many safety critical behaviours in the workplace: putting on the PPE, holding the hand rail, checking the guard is in place. Once the behaviour has become a habit it’s much more likely that we’ll follow that behaviour. But beware! We can just as easily establish bad habits: taking the shortcut, not checking the atmosphere before entering the confined space, not wearing the item of protective equipment. Very often these bad habits establish themselves as a result of complacency; the anticipated, unwelcome consequence never materialised plus there was a perceived benefit to be gained from not choosing the safe option – comfort, time saving etc.

Our conscious brain can train our subconscious and help us to establish good habits, but it may take time and effort. Anyone who has tried to diet, start a new fitness regime or give up smoking will recognise how difficult it can be. If we make the safe behaviour easier we will have more chance of success: provide the PPE at point of use, ensure it’s comfortable or looks cool and give positive reinforcement for the safe behaviour.

There’s another aspect to be aware of when it comes to this battle between the two parts of our brain and the resultant behaviour. Our subconscious behaviour is what comes naturally; this is likely to be what we do under pressure and do not have time to think about. It will most likely be driven by our established attitudes, values and beliefs, which also reside in our sub-conscious.

So once again beware! When under pressure we’re likely to choose behaviours based on what we really think rather than what we ought to do and state publicly. “Safety is our number one priority” states the manager in every meeting but when the pressure’s on what he or she really values and believes will make itself obvious.

Nick Wharton
Nick Wharton