Podcast: Play in new window | Download
It’s time for you (and me) to change.
Of course, at the beginning of every year, we all have high hopes as we launch our grand plans and resolutions that will transform who we are and what we accomplish. We’re going to break all our bad habits and develop all good ones.
But by June (ok, February) we’re wondering where that new person is, the one who’s accomplishing so much and uber-successful.
Well, the authors of Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success are set on changing that cycle for everyone, thus changing the world. But they’re not writing about the same how-to-set-goals-and-accomplish-your-dreams stuff that has been around for eons. Instead, they show scientific studies and data that will open your eyes to the multiple sources of influence that determine the way you act like you do. They also share many examples of how their methods have worked on real people with real issues.
We’re talking about changing anything in your personal or professional life, from increasing your disposable income, career options, and physical fitness, to decreasing your smoking, food intake, and relationship struggles. Any change you need to make in your behavior can be addressed by using the knowledge and strategies in this book – hence the name.
Are you perfect yet? Then maybe you need this book.
The Big Idea
More Than Willpower
"When people believe that their ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than their willpower - and that willpower is a quality they're either born with or they're not - they eventually stop trying altogether."
That’s the willpower trap – the depressing cycle where we get all jazzed up to make changes, and then relapse into old habits when we can’t make the muster.
But the authors explain that we’re blind and outnumbered. We can’t see all the forces combined against us and there’s a lot more of them than we think. When we can see what we’re fighting we have a better chance of winning, and we can learn how to turn the tables so that the opposing forces begin working for us instead of against us.
The authors clearly define six sources of influence that affect our behavior, and arrange them into a table for easy remembrance.
The first two concepts we need to understand are that in addition to motivation for change, we also need skills. We can improve our abilities by learning techniques and strategies. For instance, I can want to be a great writer, but if I don’t learn how, it will be a hard change to make in my life. So, we need both motivation and ability. This fact is demonstrated with scientific proof and many examples within the book.
But, we need to apply both of these concepts to three different categories – personal, social, and structural.
Personal relates to strategies you can do personally to affect your change. Social encompasses the involvement of others to help you change. And structural includes using things and your environment to influence your change. So when you put both motivation and ability together with these three categories you get a table that looks like this:
These are the six sources of influence that are either fighting against us or working for us as we attempt to change. And in order for our change to be effectual and stick, we need to employ all six influences. We need both personal motivation and ability, both social motivation and ability, and both structural motivation and ability. The entire book explains in detail all the many strategies and tactics that fit inside each category, but just knowing these six influences can help you be aware of what is affecting your actions, and thus build a robust plan for change.
Be the Scientist and the Subject
"When you study people who not only succeeded in changing but also maintain their success for years, you'll quickly discover two things: 1. They stumbled as much as they succeeded. 2. Their change plan was homegrown."
The key to having a “homegrown” change plan means you adjust it to fit your specific situation, weaknesses, or tendencies. You become a scientist studying yourself.
Because, no matter how great the advice you get from anyone regarding weight loss, addiction recovery, career planning, or anything else, no one is studying you. No one is living your unique life, in your particular environment, with your particular quirks or thoughts. You must become a social scientist, using yourself as the subject, like you were a specimen under a microscope, until you have a plan perfectly suited for the one subject you care most about: yourself. In the end, you’re in search of the most important social science discovery of all: how to change you.
To do this, the authors recommend a few strategies (Basically, they explain how to use the scientific method.). First, identify your crucial moments – the times or circumstances when you are about to give in and fall back into old habits, the times when you are the most vulnerable. Then create a plan (or hypothesis) of what you’ll do to resist, remove, or transform your urges during critical times. After that, implement the plan, observe the results, and make changes based on what worked and what didn’t. Repeat as needed until you’ve succeeded.
The essence of this strategy is what they call “turning bad days into good data.” When you fail, don’t get discouraged, get curious. Examine why you failed, gather data. Use that data to run another experiment on yourself. Of course, being an engineer, this strategy resonated with me. I’m curious and I love experiments.
Deploy Deliberate Practice
"…when it comes to practice, remember the oft-quoted words of legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi: ‘Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.’"
One of the phrases the authors use to employ influence #2 (personal ability) is “do what you can’t”. This means that you need to figure out the skills or knowledge required to do the thing that most eludes you. Once you’ve identified the skills you need in your crucial moments, you can set up a plan to practice those skills, until you become an expert, or expert enough.
“Perfect practice” involves four concepts:
1. Practice for crucial moments. Find out the specific thing you need to know how to do in the very moment, or even events leading up to the moment, of when you give in to temptation.
2. Break the skills into small pieces, and practice each skill in short intervals. Baby steps make things easier.
3. Get immediate feedback against a clear standard, and evaluate your progress. How do you know if you’re doing it right? Establish a way to find out. Coaches work well for this kind of feedback.
4. Prepare for setbacks. Be on guard for the things that might cause you to fail, and use them as opportunities to develop greater skill in the future.
For me, deliberate practice using these strategies will be the secret sauce to making my changes happen.
You know, changing is something we’ve been doing since birth. You may think that you just turned out this way, but however you’ve turned out is based on influences and the choices you’ve made. It’s time you understood what they are, and be in charge of how the rest of your life will turn out.
You really can change anything.
In the comments below, let us know…
What influences have you used to change your life? What worked and what didn’t work?