10 Big Ideas: Change Anything by Patterson, et al.

Posted in 10 Big Ideas

In the spirit of Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA site, I post the 10 biggest ideas I learn from the different books I read.

1. Forget will.  Think skill.


Your willpower is weak; don’t take it personally. Efforts to change usually result in failure and frustration.  Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that we each have only a finite supply of willpower and that it can easily be overpowered by emotional, social, and environmental forces.  Changers—those people who were able to change their unhelpful habits for at least three years—learned skills that lessened their reliance on willpower alone.  These skills involve identifying crucial moments when your willpower will be tested and figuring out in advance the appropriate vital behaviors to use when responding to temptation.

2. There are clear patterns of success (and failure).


Learn and use them, and you’re more likely to join the ranks of the Changers. Once you understand and can see them at work in your everyday life, you no longer have to fall victim to the six forces of influence.  In fact, you can use these very same patterns to your advantage when attempting any type of change – whether in diet, exercise, career, addiction, or finance.  The six factors are:

  • Personal Motivation – your desires and wants
  • Personal Ability – the skills you have and the ones you need to learn
  • Social Motivation – the strong influence of those around you
  • Social Ability – active help from others
  • Structural Motivation – short-term rewards and punishments
  • Structural Ability – environmental cues

3. Turn yourself into a test subject.


There is no one perfect plan except the one you design for and test on yourself. There are a million different tips, tricks, and techniques for change and most of them will not work for you for a variety of reasons that aren’t your fault.  Achieve the long-lasting results you want by changing your thinking about failure.  Try a new technique or tool.  Test how it works for you.  When a particular technique doesn’t work, you’ve learned an important fact about how you work (or don’t work).  Then tweak your plan to make it a little better, which is much more effective than just chastising yourself for a lack of willpower.

4. Start off small, but start.


Hardly anyone drops out of a marathon at mile 25.  If you quit, you’re likely to quit early on. Make your initial goals small and celebrate the little wins.  This builds emotional momentum and reinforces feelings of accomplishment.  Studies consistently show that people who have several smaller goals achieve them more often that those who have one large goal.  Be sure to reward what you do—the vital behaviors you take—rather than the results, which may not be within your control, especially at the start of your change plan.

5. Game your way to greatness.


We’re good at doing what we enjoy doing, so turn chores into games. Good games have three important elements: limited time, a small challenge, and a score.  Racing against the clock amps up motivation and excitement.  Breaking larger tasks into smaller challenges makes them more achievable more quickly.  Keeping score provides immediate feedback and orients you toward your desired outcomes.  These elements bring fuzzy and far-off goals into short-term, controllable focus.

6. Bet on your own success.


We’re wired to hate losing something we already have, so put some money on the line. Psychologists call it loss aversion.  We’ll go to greater lengths to avoid losing what we already have than we’ll go to get something we don’t have.  Put this motivation multiplier to work by setting a few goals and handing some money over to a trusted friend.  Tell the friend to give a portion of the money to someone else (you choose who) each time you fail to meet one of your goals.  Bonus motivation for sending the money to a cause you can’t stand.

7. Deliberate practice makes perfect.


When faced with a crucial moment, you’ll act how you’ve practiced. After you determine which skills you need to acquire, actively practicing them is the best way to turn them into positive habits.  No matter how complex, a skill can be broken down into small pieces and practiced in short intervals.  Get immediate feedback from a coach or practice partner to ensure less-than-ideal behaviors don’t become bad habits.  As simple as this sounds, it’s a powerful tool in your behavioral change arsenal.  In studies, people with strong and life-long snake phobias were able to handle a snake and even drape it over their shoulders after just two hours of deliberate practice.

8. Envision your future, especially the one that sucks.


Imagining what you’ll feel like when your healthier, wealthier, and slimmer is great.  Imagining what you’ll feel like when you’re sicker, poorer, and fatter is even better. Clearly visualize what your life will look, feel, and sound like if you continue behaving as you do.  Closely examining this default future and leaving nothing to the imagination helps break through the veil of denial and self-imposed ignorance we often wear in order to avoid having face up to the consequences of our behaviors.  The ability to clearly see this potential future can become an important short-term motivator, especially on a bad day.

9. Make peer pressure work for you.


Just like your parents told you, you are who you hang out with. You must learn the difference between friends and accomplices–and who in your social circle falls into which category–if you wish your changes to be successful.  It’s likely, though unfortunate, that not everyone in your life wants you to change.  Changes that you view as positive can be seen by accomplices as putting undue attention on their own shortcomings.  By contrast, friends serve as fans and as coaches, helping you stay on your change path by modeling good choices, offering advice and encouragement, and holding you accountable.

10. Put your changes on autopilot.


Keeping the plane flying is easiest once it’s headed in the right direction. Default bias is what keeps you from changing habits once they’ve become comfortable.  Simply put, it’s the tendency to take the path of least resistance.  Magazine publishers use this when they automatically charge your credit card for each year’s renewal.  They’re counting on it being too much effort for you to call up and cancel than to painlessly keep paying for a subscription you’re no longer reading.  By structuring positive default behaviors, you’ll likely continue those changes with little thought.