People hate change.

They always have and it’s likely they always will.

Whether it’s minimising waste, reducing car-use, driving below the speed limit, consuming less, walking kids to school or using alternatives to single-use plastic people have, by and large, moaned, groaned and complained.

People need a Compelling Reason, a Strong Motive and a Burning Desire to change their behaviours.

Until March 2020 normal was “Getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it” (Ellen Goodman).

COVID19 has forced us all, without a choice, to dramatically change our work, life and travel behaviours.

Prior to the pandemic many travel (transport), road safety and cycling behaviour change programs weren’t really working. Gridlock, increasing levels of traffic congestion, rising road crash statistics, sedentary lifestyles and unprecedented high levels of heart disease, diabetes and childhood obesity had been some of the biggest issues facing public sector agencies. Politicians and public servants around the world were frequently asking “What do we need to do to get people to change their behaviours?”

I spent 2019 interviewing people and researching what creates long-lasting and sustained Behaviour Change based upon three many propositions:

  • Behvaiour Change as a result of a Crisis (for example, a bushfire, a cycle, divorce or unemployment)
  • Behaviour Change when ‘’everyone does it” (for example, supermarkets removing single-use plastic bags)
  • Behaviour Change when there’s a Compelling Reason, a Strong Motive and a Burning Desire

My research had shown that change is complex. My case studies had shown that when people have a compelling reason to change, they change their behaviour and sustain the change.

Caroline said “I’ve realised you need a big compelling reason to change your habits”. Caroline is one of my favourite cases studies. She said “When my sister paid off her mortgage I was genuinely pleased for her but disappointed for myself. I had habits in place but I had been spending on the credit card. I wasn’t paying off my home loan as quickly as I could have. I’ve realised you need a big compelling reason to change your spending habits – a strong motive. Now all purchases are planned. I changed my spending to ‘conscious’ or ‘thoughtful’ spending. I recognised that if I spend now, I am taking from the future. Now we have limits. We ask ourselves “How badly do we need this?” Our focus is repaying the home loan. When you tell people you have a budget, they share their story. People want to have conversations”.

Caroline changed her, and her families, behaviours because she – and they – had a Compelling Reason, a Strong Motive and a Burning Desire to change.

In a BMW Guggenheim Lab ‘Future of Cities’ workshop in Berlin in 2012 someone said “”We need to learn how to do things differently NOW, because we won’t have time to ‘learn’ when we are in the middle of a social, economic or environmental crisis”.

The crisis of COVID19 has created a boom in bicycle sales, people are walking for exercise every day and record numbers of people on bicycles are using local recreational bikeways and cycleways than ever before.

Will those changed behaviours be sustained and maintained?

Only time will tell…