I recently started running. I've started trying to run a lot over the course of my life - probably at least 10 different times. I've never gotten past 3-4 runs in the past but today I just finished my 8th run and I've been at it for three weeks now. I'm greatly encouraged by this and I give a lot of credit to a little iPhone app, C25K. But there is something much bigger at work as well. I recently hit 40, I have a toddler who I want to have an active mother, and people all around me are getting their exercise in - modeling their behavior visibly. It wasn't all that direct a path though - Jim Storer, my business partner has been at it for well over a year now. My other social media/business friends including Christine Perkett, Dan Brostek, Kyle Flaherty, Tamsen McMahon, and others have been at it even longer in most cases. Collectively they all provided a steady drumbeat of behavior that I already knew I wanted to adopt. If I think about BJ Fogg's behavior model of ability, motivation, and trigger I always had the ability to start, my social connections built up my motivation, and turning 40 provided the trigger.
So I've started running which is great and I've found a program that is working for me so far which is also great. What is really most interesting however is the internal mental change and the impact of modeling on others. My husband has always been more of a runner than me and used to regularly run races. His running has tapered off in recent years because of a crazy schedule and some injuries that have made running impossible at times. What is interesting is that I've verbally encouraged him to get back to his regular running for years but the effect was not nearly as great as me starting to run even though I have not really been pushing him. Call it guilt, call it peer pressure but he has run much more in the last few weeks than he has in the last year. While I could have guessed this might be the outcome, the power of it actually happening has a profound mental impact that may be the lock in I need to keep at it myself. Inspiring yourself is great, inspiring others is amazingly powerful.
Changing someone's exercise and health habits is a pretty complex behavior change to make but it is similar in scope to some of the changes we as community managers and social strategists are hoping to inspire in our organizations. This morning, as I was running, I was thinking about the people I know who are best suited to this task and they are hard to come by - individuals that understand how big and complex the task is and yet are not overwhelmed by it and know that it starts with one footfall. They also realize that those first metaphoric runs may feel more discouraging than encouraging but they have the faith to keep at it because they understand how change happens. It is not with dramatic fanfare. It is with a small change, made visible - over and over and over. Those pebbles dropped again and again into the lake will eventually cause ripples on the other side. It requires a strategic mind paired with the patience to keep dropping pebbles in the water.
In the latest issue of Time, they had an article on The New Greatest Generation - mostly generation X military leaders who have been faced with very complex, political tasks instead of what has traditionally been more a use of brut force. They are committed, purposeful, strategic and deeply pragmatic. It's no wonder some of the leaders I've been so impressed with are veterans. If you are looking to be a social strategist or to hire one, look to build the qualities of these veterans cited in the article. Small changes - repeated often and made visible - are what lead to real change. It's deceptively simple and profoundly challenging to pull off and needs strategic patience because on any given day, change may not be apparent.