Saying Becomes Believing

Clinton Marquardt - Sleep and Fatigue Specialist

As a fatigue manager, one of the biggest challenges you will encounter is getting your workforce to change their attitudes and beliefs about sleep.  In our overbooked and fast-paced lives, it is difficult to factor in time for a full 8 hours of sleep. Sleep easily gets de-prioritized. One of Benjamin Franklin’s quotes sums up the beliefs about sleep for many people, in 1757 he said:

“There will be sleeping enough in the grave.”

As a side note, isn’t it interesting that a quote from hundreds of years ago still echoes the thinking of many people today?  It also points to why it is so difficult to change our sleep beliefs….they are engrained in a deep and long standing sleep-belief system for most industrialized cultures.

Although the end goal is to get everyone onboard the fatigue risk management train, it takes time to fill that train.  One person has to get on at a time.  Keep this in mind when thinking about the change management process and strategies to modify your workforce’s attitudes and beliefs.

Working at the individual level and persuading one person at a time to reprioritize sleep is often a necessary step to changing a whole workforce.  One strategy I refer to as the Saying Becomes Believing technique can be effective here.  Many years ago, social psychologists learned that if you can get someone to write or speak about a topic they are having trouble believing in, they will start to believe what they write or say[1].  There is one important condition to keep in mind; the person cannot feel that they are being bribed or coerced into saying or writing something they are having trouble believing.


To put this approach into action, look for someone in your organization who is sitting on the fence when it comes to jumping on the fatigue risk management train.  These people are usually neutral in their actions and beliefs about sleep and fatigue.  Neutral people usually appear quiet and unengaged when it comes to fatigue management issues.  Ask one of your neutrals to help with a favour. The favour should be small, and, if possible, somewhat fun.  The fun part gives the neutral a little reward for completing your favour and begins to create a positive association with engaging in the fatigue risk management process.  The favour should also include writing or speaking (or both) about the personal benefits you can expect from reprioritizing sleep.

Fun activities often allow people to be creative.  An example of a favour involving creativity would be to ask a neutral to design a basic info-graphic about the benefits of good sleep.  You should supply them with the benefits by giving them a paragraph you have already written or a few slides from your fatigue risk management training program.  If you can’t think of a fun activity, or if the neutral declines your request for a favour, adding in your own reward can also work.  For example, you could ask a neutral to read a few pages on sleep benefits and then to write a list of the benefits or verbally tell you about the benefits so that you can use them in your organization’s fatigue risk management documentation or training.  Because reading and then writing or verbally dictating back to you is less fun than creating an infographic, you could reward the neutral with something small, like a coffee and muffin, or leaving work 15 – 30 minutes early.  Just make sure the reward is small, otherwise it will feel like a bribe and the Saying Becomes Believing technique won’t work.  If the neutral declines, even with the promise of a coffee and muffin, leave it at that. If you start to pressure the neutral, they will feel coerced and the whole thing will backfire on you.  Coercion will create a negative association with the fatigue management process and it will be even more difficult to get this person on the fatigue risk management train.

The Saying Becomes Believing technique is based on social science, which is based on probabilities.  This means it will not work every time.  But, it does frequently move people’s beliefs and attitudes about sleep in the right direction.  Now all you have to do is repeat this technique 100’s of times with all your neutral people….just a small task right?


[1] Klaas, E. (1978). Psychological effects of immoral actions: The experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 85, 756-771.