Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 3

I’m in a 5-part blog series that gives a brain-friendly tip that you can use to make your organizational changes brain-friendly so that they stick. Today’s is Sticky Tip 3.

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 3 Dr. Charles Stone

Manage expectations

As you create a change buy-in plan, consider the power of expectations. The brain likes to know what to expect so it can prepare for and anticipate what’s coming. If you team feels uncertain about the future, their anxiety will rise because they get into an away state (a feeling of fear). One way to help moderate this anxiety is to plan how you will set expectations.

It’s wise to set realistic ones and to avoid overselling the benefits. Yet, still build in hopeful expectations. When we expect something good, we get boost of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in reward and motivation.

This process is much like the placebo effect when somebody thinks he’s taking a real drug for a health issue, even though it may be a sugar pill. The sugar pill actually helps some people feel better because their positive expectations activate a part of the brain that tempers pain (Fournier et al., 2010). And, positive expectations prime our brains to be even more receptive.

David Rock, a noted writer on neuroscience insight wrote, “What you expect is what you experience (Rock, 2009, Kindle e-book loc. 140).” So when you implement the change, you want to have met the expectations you communicated. Better yet, exceed them. Our brains love it when we get something unexpected, like exceeded expectations.

When your team experiences the positive benefits of change, their dopamine levels increase which puts them in a better mood. And when our teams are in better moods, it can engender more confidence in your leadership. They then become even more open to new experiences and change.

One way to engender this confidence is to recognize and celebrate small wins along the way. The Scriptures even tell us to Rejoice with those who rejoice…. (Rom. 12.15, NIV)

How can you manage expections for the change you hope to bring?

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Fournier, J.C., DeRubeis, R.J., Hollon, S.D., Dimidjian, S., Amsterdam, J.D., Shelton, R.C. & Fawcett, J. (2010) Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: a patient-level meta-analysis. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303 (1), pp.47-53.

Rock, D. (2009) Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. HarperCollins.

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 2

I’m in a 5-part blog series that gives brain-friendly tips you can use to make your organizational changes brain-friendly so that they stick. Today’s is Sticky Tip 2.

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 2 Dr. Charles Stone

Envision the benefits

When we imagine accomplishing something it actually activates the same brain circuits as if we actually performed the task (Munzert et al., 2008). As you create your change plan, include ways to help your team envision the positive benefits the change can bring.

Let’s say you’re moving your office to another location. Plan ways to help your team see how such a move will benefit them.Help them envision how a day in the new office would help them be more productive. Help them imagine what it would be like with new desks, comfortable chairs, a nice break room, and windows.

Break into manageable bites their fears and concerns you’ve discerned by stepping into their shoes. Address each one. Fill in their knowledge gaps with information that creates a compelling image of the future.

Fill in the gaps with faith that with God’s help you can make the change. If you lead a faith-based ministry or a church, encourage your people with Hebrews 11.1. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (NLT)

And, the more you communicate that the change is less about you and your interests and more about their needs, the better your change will stick (Stiff & Mongeau, 2002, p. 111). For example, if you’re trying to create a change in a church, have someone beside the senior leaders share why they believe the change will help the cause of Christ.

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Munzert, J., Zentgraf, K., Stark, R. & Vaitl, D. (2008) Neural activation in cognitive motor processes: comparing motor imagery and observation of gymnastic movements. Experimental Brain Research, 188 (3), pp.437-444.

Stiff, J.B. & Mongeau, P.A. (2002) Persuasive Communication, Second Edition. 2nd ed. The Guilford Press.

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 1

In my last post, I suggested 6 brain barriers that limit successful change in churches, ministries, and organizations. Often when leaders plan change for their organization, they simply plan the change itself and neglect planning how to communicate the change. I believe, however, that if you want your change to stick and you want to minimize disruption, you must begin by creating a brain-friendly communication plan.

In my next five blogs, I suggest a brain-friendly tip each day that can help make your change sticky, all grounded in recent neuroscience findings. Here’s tip 1.

Brain-Friendly Change: Sticky Tip 1 Dr. Charles Stone

Step into their shoes

Neuroscientists have learned that often what we say we will do we don’t, and what we say we won’t do, we often do. Of course it doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure that out.

But they’ve discovered that when the part of the brain just behind your eyes lights up, the orbitofrontal cortex (Falk et al., 2010), it can accurately predict future behavior. This part of the brain gives us the ability to see another’s perspective by stepping inside their shoes. It’s called mentalizing. As we think about ourselves or think about others, we engage this part of the brain. And what we do in the future is correlated with it lighting up. So when your team takes your perspective and when you take theirs, you can help move the change forward.

So as you begin to create a buy-in plan, think about how you can step into your team’s shoes. Try to discern their perspective of the pending change by asking yourself questions like these.

  • What are their concerns?
  • How do they feel about this change?
  • What do they fear?
  • What do they think is going on inside your head?
  • What might be their biggest objections?

Better yet, ask a few key people for their perspective about the change.

Also, ask yourself how can you create an environment so your team will feel safe to discuss the change. Feeling safe can create a toward response (versus an away or resistant response) which will make your team more open to the change (Whiting et al., 2012).

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Falk, E.B., Berkman, E.T., Mann, T., Harrison, B. & Lieberman, M.D. (2010) Predicting Persuasion-Induced Behavior Change from the Brain. The Journal of neuroscience?: the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30 (25), pp.8421-8424.

Whiting, J., Jones, E., Rock, D. & Bendit, X. (2012) Lead change with the brain in mind. Neuroleadership Journal, (4), pp.1-15.

Six Brain Barriers to Healthy Church Change

Healthy change is necessary for any church, ministry, or business to thrive. However, leaders often run into these invisible brain barriers when they attempt change. Ignoring them can slow or stonewall a change. Since neuroscientists are now rapidly learning amazing new insights about the brain, it behooves us to learn about how our brains respond to change.

The next time you plan a change initiative for your church or organization, consider how you might lessen the effects of these brain barriers that can stifle it.

Six Brain Barriers to Healthy Church Change Dr Charles Stone

  1. Brain Barrier 1:Undoing a bad impression is harder than creating a good one. It’s the “you don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression” adage. Neuroscientists have found that to be true. It’s not just an old wives’ tale (Lount et al., 2008). Poorly introduced change will start your change on the wrong footing.
  2. Brain Barrier 2: People initially assume the worst. Your brain is wired to pick up the negative more than the positive. In fact, 2/3 of the brain cells in the flight-fight part of your brain, the amygdala, are wired to pick up on what’s wrong rather than on what’s right (Hanson, 2010). Our brains have a built-in negativity bias. People will initially latch onto potential negatives of your change rather than onto the positives.
  3. Brain Barrier 3: The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly increases the brain’s fear response and will hinder that change (Hemp, 2009).
  4. Brain Barrier 4: People will fill in knowledge gaps about your change with fear. Change causes uncertainty about the future which in turn breeds fear. And when the brain senses fear, it doesn’t like it. It will act out of that fear which dampens the brain’s ability to think clearly. The less information you provide about your change initiative, the more others will fill in the knowledge gaps with their negative assumptions. As a result, they’ll be more fearful and more resistant to change.
  5. Brain Barrier 5: People underestimate their ability to weather difficult future events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). Uncertainty causes us to poorly forecast how well we can face the difficulties that changes might bring. The term is called “affective forecasting.” When you present change, others will often initially assume that life will be worse for them because of your change.
  6. Brain Barrier 6: Emotions play a significant role in decision-making and influence how well others will embrace change. Just presenting facts about your change without engaging positive and hopeful emotions about the future will seldom move it forward.

In my next post I give some brain-friendly keys to change.

What barriers have you seen from others when you’ve introduced change?

Related posts:


Hanson, R. (2010) Confronting the Negativity Bias [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 31 January 2013].

Hemp, P. (2009) Death by Information Overload – Harvard Business Review [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 20 March 2013].

Lount, R.B., Zhong, C.-B., Sivanathan, N. & Murnighan, J.K. (2008) Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: The Timing of a Breach and the Restoration of Trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (12), pp.1601-1612.

Wilson, T.D. & Gilbert, D.T. (2005) Affective Forecasting. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (3), pp.131-134.

The Post-Easter Lull: 4 ways a pastor can prepare for it

For over 25 years I’ve preached our church’s Easter sermon, usually in multiple services. This year I have the privilege of just attending Easter services as I’m now working as a church consultant in myministry and completing a second book I’ve written in the past 12 months.

I remember the excitement that always led up to Easter. The month prior our staff would often log extra hours to plan Easter egg hunts, prepare for extra services, create invitation fliers, and spruce up the building.

Yet, I also recall the post-Easter lull, both in attendance and in my emotions. Easter usually produced the highest attendance for the year. Although we’d always plan a cool follow-up sermon series hoping that visitors would return, most didn’t. The attendance the week following was about average, or even lower if that Sunday fell during spring break week.

Not only did attendance lag, but my emotions did as well. The high attendance would always rev up my adrenalin, but what comes up must come down. After the high wore off, I’d sometimes be in a funk for a few days. If you experience the post-Easter lull, consider some of these suggestions that might help you weather it better.

The post-Easter Lull: 4 Ways pastors can prepare for it charles stone

  1. Normalize: Expect that you will probably feel somewhat down for a few days. It’s normal after an emotional high. By bringing your expectations more in line with what you experience, you avoid dumping another emotional weight on top (the one that says you should not be feeling down).
  2. Expectations: Set staff and leadership expectations for the week that follows. Remind them to prepare for a potential downer. Although I’ve heard miracle stories about churches that had humongous attendance the Sunday after Easter, I wonder if many of those stories have become simple folklore. If you’ve discovered the secret of how to motivate the once-a-year-attender to disrupt his Sunday routine two weeks in a row to come back to your church, please share your secret with us.
  3. Soul and Body Care: Take an extra day off and do something totally refreshing and fun. Get more sleep. Take a nap each day. Eat right and exercise more.
  4. Faith: Trust God that He will do His work if you do yours. Diligently prepare for Easter, pray for God to work, and pray for those who attend. Then leave the results to Him. He will bring back those who should return and He will help you emotionally recover. Remember, although the world remembers Jesus’ resurrection once a year, our churches should celebrate his resurrection each week and we should celebrate it each moment.

If you’ve experienced the post-Easter lull, what has helped you through it?

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