Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Change Anything

How many times have you tried to change a habit and failed miserably?  (I know I'm not the only one whose New Years' Resolutions are forgotten long before Valentine's Day...)  And then you feel like a failure, you curse yourself for your lack of willpower or stamina, you beat yourself up for not being able to stick with that diet or pay off that debt or swallow those snarky words that hurt your partner or children.  Well, according to the team of authors who wrote Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, it's not about a lack of willpower, it's about changing the whole process of how you change.  And changing is a skill anyone can learn.

Patterson, et al., identify Six Sources of Influence that work together to motivate our behaviors and, therefore, need to be adjusted when we want to make a change.  They arrange their Six Sources in a matrix with three categories (Personal, Social, and Structural) with two facets each (Motivation and Ability).  Using all six of the sources, rather than just one or two, greatly improves your chance of success.  And the authors go in to great detail on specific tactics for each.  For example, under Source 1: Personal Motivation, they recommend five tactics to increase your personal desire to change and keep it strong:
* Visit your default future.  Figure out what your future will look like if you don't change.
* Tell the whole vivid story.  Describe that future as vividly as possible to make it seem more "real."
* Use value words.  Articulate the "why" for your change in positive terms.
* Make it a game.  Set a time frame and smaller goals to help you reach the big one.
* Create a personal motivation statement.  This will help you stay on track when you hit those crucial moments when you are more likely to fail.

And that's just one of the Six Sources.  Compare that to the tactics list for Structural Ability:
* Build fences.  Set manageable rules for yourself.
* Manage distance.  Removing the temptation or sometimes just moving it a few feet further away can make a big difference.
* Change cues. Use automatic reminders to help your stay on track.
* Engage your autopilot. Make your default bias work for you by setting up positive defaults, like standing appointments, automatic withdrawals, etc.
* Use tools. Technology is powerful and can help or hinder your progress depending on how you use it.

One thought I found particularly insightful was regarding willpower.  "Will is a skill, not a character trait.  Willpower can be learned and strengthened like anything else, is best learned through deliberate practice."  This makes sense. If we view willpower as a static character trait, we're more likely to think that because we've failed once, there's no use in trying again; we just can't do it, it's hopeless.  If instead, we, view will as a skill that can be improved, there's always hope for that improvement and the encouragement to keep trying.  Also, a good reminder for any goals we set, "Reward your actions, not your results.  Results are often out of your link your incentives to something you can control."  We can't set goals for what others are going to do because we have no control over that.  Our goals must be based on actions we can control or it will be too easy to lose heart.

The authors recommend looking at this process of change as a scientist would.  (This was actually my favorite idea in the entire book.)
Don't expect to be able to identify all of your crucial moments and vital behaviors at the beginning.  Your progress won't follow a straight line.  You'll hit binges and setbacks, but treat these challenges the way any scientist would.  Examine your failures with curiosity and concern, not self-condemnation.  You'll quickly discover that you learn more from your failures than from your successes...Learn, adjust; learn more, adjust again.  Make even your bad days become good data.
I love the idea of "examin[ing] your failures with curiosity and concern, not self-condemnation."  We all fall short of our ideal, despite all our efforts, and treating those moments as opportunities to improve our method of improving instead of opportunities to belittle ourselves is a much healthier approach.

At times it was difficult to differentiate between some of the categories the author present, in particular the two facets of Social Sources seemed to work in tandem, but I appreciated the well-rounded and forward-thinking approach they demonstrate to making and maintaining positive changes, and the concrete tactics they describe.  The book has a related website,, where you can register your own plan for personal change and access additional helpful tools and tips.

Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success
by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
ISBN: 9780446573917
Buy it from Amazon (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Or go check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)!

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