Joseph Grenny is coauthor of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations. His fourth book, Change Anything, will be available April 2011.
Did you already blow your New Year’s resolution? You’re not alone. It turns out that fewer than one in twenty of us succeed at changing a longstanding habit that has kept us from advancing our career, improving a relationship, getting healthier, or becoming financially fit.
Generally, our change plans fall into one of two traps:
The Willpower Trap—Most of us fail to change because we believe the best predictor of our capacity to change is the quantity of willpower we possess. This common approach to change is all about learning to deny ourselves of a “thrill.” After a few weeks of torture, we succumb to temptation, conclude we lack the fortitude to make it stick, and fall back into bad habits until some life crisis forces us to get back on the cold turkey treadmill.
The Magic Bullet Trap—When we finally give up on willpower, we hope we can kill bad habits with a single new pill, surgery, gadget, or fad. For example, a friend loses weight, and we buy the same diet book. A neighbor gets out of debt with a new iPhone app, so we download it too. It’s only a matter of months before we’re back to bad habits and looking for the next quick fix.
The problem with the magic bullet approach is that it assumes one simple change will get us to overcome deeply intractable patterns of behavior. These change strategies fail because there isn’t one reason we’re doing what we’re doing—there are six sources of influence that shape our choices. Unless we address all six sources, we’re as likely to win at change as a person in a one-against-six tug-of-war.
Luckily, there’s a better way to influence personal change than either willpower or magic bullets. In fact, there’s a way to design personal change that makes you ten times more likely to succeed. This method is based on three simple but powerful ideas that help you understand and engage all of the sources of influence that affect your choices:
Escape the willpower trap. The first step to succeeding at change is realizing the problem is not that you lack will; it’s that you’re blind to the many forces that shape your behavior, and you’re outnumbered six to one by the forces you aren’t taking advantage of.
Become the scientist and the subject. Most of us shop for magic bullets as though someone else might have figured out the key to changing you. They haven’t. No one knows all of the unique dynamics that affect your relationships, career, finances, or health. You’ll have to embark on a scientific study of your own behavior to discover the key to changing you. The science of personal success teaches you an easy way of both understanding and engaging all six of the sources of influence that lead to rapid, profound, and sustainable change.
Turn bad days into good data. When you fail to change, the problem is not you—it’s your plan. When things don’t go well, the science of personal success helps you analyze what was missing from your plan, add it to what you already knew, and move forward to predictable success.
Change literally becomes inevitable when all of the sources of influence that provoke you into bad habits are turned in your favor. It’s time to leave behind failed dependence on willpower or magic-bullet solutions. The dismal record of those approaches speaks for itself. By learning the new science of personal success, it becomes possible to change anything.