What the World Cup can teach us about behaviour change

July 14, 2018  |  Lorna Marsh

Football might not be coming home but the England World Cup team’s psychologist has been applauded for helping bring it closer than it’s been for decades.

And the behaviour change expertise used by Pippa Grange to change the team’s narrative and break the penalty curse can be applied to everyday life.

Here we’ve got seven methods you can use in your own life. Perhaps not quite the number of men who beat Colombia in the quarter-finals, but enough for a seven-a-side Sunday morning kickabout.


What they did: Changed England’s infamous penalty performance history by switching the players’ mindset ready for the quarter final. Penalties were framed as an opportunity for England to beat the opposing team, not as the dreaded threat that they’d been in the past.

What you can do: Difficult job interview? Anxious about a big presentation? These aren’t chances for people to see you fail, they are opportunities for you to shine and reveal your expertise.

Create your future story

What they did: File 30 (and the rest) years of hurt in the box marked ‘history’. Ok so England might not have come back with the trophy but the team are creating their own narrative, free of the past. And starting with being the first England team to win a World Cup penalty shootout (did we mention the penalty shootout?)

What you can do: Forget that you failed to meet that deadline last week or that you shouted at the kids yesterday. That’s not who you are now. Who you are now is calm with the kids, good at your job and successful.

Vintage Subbuteo soccer player miniature toy

Feel the fear – and turn it into action

What they did: When Dele Alli was asked if he felt nervous before the quarter final, he replied: “Excited, not nervous.”

What you can do: When a colleague asks if you feel nervous before a crunch presentation, you reply: “Excited, not nervous.”

And don’t fear failure

What they did: Played more bravely because they were part of a culture that accepted that failure happens, especially en route to success, and that it can even be helpful in the learning process. Gareth Southgate himself was a perfect example of someone who’d built resilience and a great future after surviving that Euro 96 penalty miss.

What you can do: Even if you’re not part of a culture that embraces failure, you can still embrace it yourself. Don’t dwell on past failures, reflect on and learn from them. Be brave and don’t let fear of failure hold you back from a dream job or longed-for relocation.

Vintage Subbuteo soccer player miniature toy

Sideline negative thoughts

What they did: Relegated harsh self-criticism, and unhelpful criticism from others, to the sidelines.

What you can do: Next time you’re filled with self-doubt, treat that voice as a boorish heckler shouting in the street. One you can calmly ignore as you walk straight past.

Visualise and mentally rehearse

What they did: Players had individual visualisation techniques worked out for them to tackle set pieces.

What you can do: The important thing is to get specific. This isn’t just about positive thinking, like landing a high paid job, it’s about visualising, and therefore rehearsing, what you have to do to get it, like nailing tough interview questions.


What they did: Frolicked on inflatable unicorns in the pool and talked about their anxieties and ambitions. According to Southgate, this helped bond them as a team and help them work better together.

What you can do: The talking bit. Perhaps not the unicorn frolicking bit. At least not at a first client meeting.

Want to know how to use behaviour change science and nudge theory in your work? Give us a shout!

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