Breaking Our Reptilian Habits

By William D. Rothrock, CSSC, Rothrock Settlement Consulting – June 14, 2022
Breaking Our Reptilian Habits

Evolution drove caution into human nature. Our reptilian brain’s braking mechanisms — fear and pain — created resistance to behavioral change that worked well early in human history. However, these brakes could limit our potential in the modern world. The longer we resist changing behavior, the greater our fear mounts, preventing us from taking action. So how can we break the cycle?

You have taken the first step if you acknowledge that the reaction is natural. However, the question becomes how to reduce the reptilian flight-or-fight response and use rational thought before deciding to act. The bottom line is to recognize when you need to change behavior, right?

The following process has always worked well for me:

Define - Process - Change Behavior

In this paradigm, a goal can be realized by shifting behavior. A goal is optimized by defining a clear outcome with measurable values, realistic results and a time parameter. Time is not the enemy; it can give us reference points to evaluate progress towards behavioral change. In addition, time allows us to judge the effectiveness of our path to completion.

Defining a Goal

Using Pareto Analysis, hazard analysis or any analytical framework worked for me when defining my goal parameters. Analysis through a constructive framework eliminates cognitive gaps or assumptions of causation due to familiarity. Identifying the root factors that warrant a behavior change diminishes the likelihood of creating an inefficient process.

Following the Define/Process/Change Behavior methodology, you create a work product, such as defining what kind of business you want. Then, an 80/20 Pareto Analysis can help evaluate your current client base to determine revenue to time spent on each client. A continuing theme has emerged during frequent conversations with my CPA colleagues: focusing on more complex clients increases revenue while attending to less affluent clients doesn’t.

An example of a defined goal could be: Defer 20 percent of the clients that provide less revenue value to shift my business towards complex clients that provide a better balance between time spent and revenue earned.

Implementing a Goal

Now that the goal is defined, what process do you need to implement the goal? In our example above, the process could include the following steps:

  • Identify the clients to be transitioned.
  • Determine a course of action for the account, such as finding them another CPA.
  • Create a script for what you want to say to your clients.

Then, incorporate a timeframe: Each month for the next ten months, I will transition 10 percent of selected clients to other CPAs. Therefore, the goal will be completed in 10 months.

Changing Your Behavior

Sweat beads up on your forehead. Palms get cold and clammy. You suddenly remember 200 other things to do, like get a tooth filled. Goal denied. How do you stop procrastination?

Break down the process required to achieve your goal into its constituent parts. Then identify the first action required in the process. In my example, contacting the client on the phone started the process. The key to change is becoming the force that acts upon your inertia. You are the change agent. You create the force that alters the speed or direction of your progress.

After I defined my goal and saw the value of that goal, why did the phone seem to weigh 10,000 pounds? The same creative ability that allows you to solve complex problems for your clients also creates images that leads to fear related to picking up the phone. Fear that the client may get angry or the conversation might not go well. All of these possibilities could happen. However, the pain your mind creates often far exceeds the reality of the pain that might occur. Once you make that first phone call, you can break the cycle. Fear no longer chains you to failure.

Your change in behavior starts with the first phone call. I know from experience that each successive call becomes easier as you build momentum.

I entered the financial profession in 1999, which required hours of dialing for clients. I had monthly, yearly and personal goals I had to achieve to become a financial professional. So did my colleagues. Less than 2 percent of my colleagues made the grade. Why? It wasn’t because they weren’t capable. Once they defined a problem and goal, they failed to pick up the phone. What appears as an easy step prevented their goal from becoming a reality. Do not let that be you. Make the future you want by being an agent of change.