April 19th, 2019
We humans are creatures of habit and deeply distrust and avoid change. My current TEDx talk is about exactly this and it has a lot of connections to our work in the internationalisation world.
Why do mobility exchange numbers start to stagnate, e.g. in the Erasmus program, why do we fail to motivate all students to go and explore the world: e.g. a meagre 1.7% US students (332,000 mobile amongst a population of 19.9 Mio) are mobile. The main reason is that mobility is one of the more drastic and large versions of change and we humans simply hate that.
Instead, we love to stick to habits – e.g. most people choose the same restaurant and often the same food when going out for dinner! We wonder why less than 10% of students become mobile across the European countries but we do wonder much less if we know that 66% of Europeans live within 25km of their parents and only 0.4% changed their country of residence in the last year. This is the level of immobility that we are dealing with!
Why are we so resistant to change? This has biological and psychological reasons. The most striking biological one is that our brain is the Lamborghini amongst our organs: not the largest (only 2% of the body mass) but the one consuming most of the energy (20%). And every change needs thinking and thus energy. Habits on the other hand do not and are therefore more efficient. Psychologically, habits are attractive because they make us quicker – no decisions to be taken, that is why we usually shave on autopilot – and most importantly, they keep us in our comfort zone. People do not move away far from home because that keeps them in their social comfort zone (parents, friends) and when you do not risk new food, you stay in your “nutritional comfort zone”. Importantly for us, most students are therefore very reluctant to leave THEIR social comfort zone, i.e. their home university.
In short, habits are very strong and stop us from changing. Now we could leave it at that, but I strongly believe we should not. Change is favorable for us in many ways: a study by Staudinger 2018 showed that the amount of gray matter in the brain in areas related to learning and attention is closely related to how much the patients changed job tasks over many years: more change -> more gray matter -> healthier brain. And also, only by change can we make new exciting experiences. So, we need to tell students that going abroad does not mean losing the old friends but rather gaining a lot of new friends!
But how do we achieve change? We need mainly time and pressure and I explain the reasons in the TEDx talk. I also give you an 8-step recipe and ask you and everybody to not stagnate by sticking to habits but elevate yourself by embracing the magic of change.