When the state of Texas changed their anti-litter campaign from “Please Don’t Litter” to “Don’t Mess With Texas”, visible roadside litter dropped 72 percent (Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath). Texans strongly identify with the state and if Texans don’t litter, then neither do they.
When people in my organization (US Air Force) go outside at work, they always wear hats. When they are near aircraft, they never wear hats. Airmen identify with their uniform.
In the book, Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, the author writes about the internal dialogue of identity. Who we tell ourselves we are is the person we become. Who we say we are can weaken our resolve, strengthen our habits, hold us back, encourage us to persist, and even influence us to not wear PPE nor follow company rules.
Who do you tell yourself you are?
Tracking my internal dialogue for just 10 minutes tells me:
I’m a runner. I drink coffee. I wake up early. I read daily. I write every morning. I wear a hat to work. I am a husband and father. I love the outdoors. I like improving my surroundings. I eat healthy foods.
Is the above true? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s an internal script that guides daily action. My need for consistency between thoughts and action takes care of the rest.
The great part about what you tell yourself? It’s all made up. You get to decide what you tell yourself, and in the end, who you’ll become.
Want people to use PPE at work? Change the internal dialogue of those you work with.
Want solo workers to follow the rules? Create an identity in your company that values safe work.
Want to work out, eat better, write, read, or just enjoy the moment? You get the idea.
If the second largest state in the U.S. can affect litter on their highways, what can you do when you decide who you are?