Change Anything QA

How to Avoid a Couch Potato Lifestyle

David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of two New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything and Influencer.


Change Anything

QDear Crucial Skills,

How can I rid myself of watching TV mindlessly for long hours?

Couch Potato

A Dear Couch Potato,

Thanks for asking! This is a problem that sneaks up on people and has real impacts. Adolescents who watch hours of TV also eat more junk food, exercise less, study less, have fewer friends, and are more likely to be involved in drugs and alcohol. Adults who watch lots of TV are more likely to be overweight, depressed, have cardiovascular diseases, and shortened lives. Wow!

However, notice that these are correlations. They aren’t saying that watching TV causes all these ills. In fact, the causation may run the other way, at least sometimes. Think of how it might work: I feel ill and a little depressed. I don’t have a close friend to visit, and I don’t feel up to taking a walk. So instead, I watch a few hours of TV. While I’m watching, it’s easy to down a beer or two and a bag of chips. As this becomes a habit, I go out less, gain more weight, spend less time with friends, and feel worse about myself. So, how do I handle my depressed mood? By escaping into more TV.

How can you escape this vicious cycle? Personally, I use the principles from Change Anything.

Set a Goal. Decide how much TV is the right amount for you. It might be one hour a day or five hours a week. Make sure the goal is reasonable and within your control.

Create a Six-Source Plan. When a habit is hard to change, it’s usually because your world is perfectly organized to maintain it. You probably have all Six Sources of Influence pulling against you. I’ll suggest some ways to get all Six Sources pulling for you.

Source 1: Personal Motivation. Left in a room by yourself, you probably want to watch TV. How can you change your motives in the moment?

I think we often use TV as a solution to boredom, loneliness, burnout, and bad moods. And it may even work, at least in the short run. It pulls us into a compelling story and distracts us from our troubles. But it’s a distraction, not a solution. And it tends to lead us into other bad habits, as well as take time away from more healthy habits.

If you are using TV as a solution to a problem, then finding better solutions to these problems might remove an important motive for watching TV.

Track your moods. Put a notebook near your TV, and track what you are thinking and feeling when you get the urge to watch TV. Find out whether you are using your TV to manage your moods and which moods they are.

Also, note what your moods are at the end of each day. Some researchers have found that viewers are happy while watching but feel lousy at the end of the evening—as if they’ve wasted the evening. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Do I feel good about how I spent my time today?” Enjoy the well-deserved feeling of success when you stick to your TV plan.

Source 2: Personal Ability. New habits require new skills. If you find it’s taking too much willpower to avoid TV, add some skill.

Skill up on better ways to enjoy your free time. First, determine when you watch TV: is it early morning, the middle of the day, after dinner, or late at night? Map out these times and begin searching for better activities that could replace TV during those times.

Create your own Pleasant Events Schedule. It’s an old tool, but it’s a good one. The Pleasant Events Schedule is a simple list of 320 activities that some or many people enjoy. You can find an updated version that focuses on older adults here. You can use this tool as follows:

a. Check out the items on the list
b. Select several that you enjoy and that would fit into your free time
c. Schedule them into your free time—put them on your calendar as an alternative to TV watching
d. If you discover you don’t enjoy them, pick different activities

Sources 3&4: Social Motivation and Ability. Do others around you influence you to watch more or less TV? What is your personal mix of accomplices (people who enable or encourage more TV) and friends (people who enable and encourage less TV)?

Change the Mix of Accomplices and Friends. Identify your TV buddies—the accomplices who join you in front of the TV—and then ask them to join you in non-TV activities. Or, add a new friend by finding someone who is doing something you’d rather do—exercising, taking a walk, reading aloud, volunteering, etc.—and join them.

When you feel as if you need help, help someone. Or at least connect with someone. Spend your TV time with someone you care about, instead of with your TV. Call your mom, visit a friend, talk to your children, or help your children with their homework.

Source 5: Structural Motivation. Are there hidden rewards for TV watching? Can you do something to invert the economy?

Take away hidden rewards. Don’t allow yourself to eat or drink while you’re watching TV. Don’t have the TV on during meals. For example, do you indulge in junk food when you sit in front of the TV? Don’t reward yourself while watching.

Reward incremental progress. Track and reward your progress every week. But don’t use TV watching as the reward! Find a range of little presents you can give yourself. Change them up so they stay fresh and make them contingent on achieving your weekly TV goal.

Source 6: Structural Ability. Is your environment making it too easy and convenient to watch TV? Does your living room, kitchen, or bedroom scream, “Turn me on, I’m a television!”

Use convenience and comfort. Make it less convenient and less comfortable to watch TV. My wife and I have one TV that’s out all the time and is located on the wall in our kitchen. But we’ve made sure the chairs there aren’t overly comfortable. After about 45 minutes, no one would want to keep watching TV at our house.

Actually, we do have a second TV, but we keep it on the top shelf in a closet near the living room. Whenever we want to watch a longer show (we’re Tour de France addicts) we take down this TV and put it on a stand in the living room. But we always put it away again after the show. These little touches of inconvenience and discomfort prevent us from watching too much.

The secret sauce that makes Six-Source Plans so effective is that you use all the Sources all at once. Don’t cherry pick one or two of these ideas. Make sure you have a tactic that will work for you in each of the Six Sources of Influence and implement them all at the same time.

Of course, I’ve shared only a few of the many possible tactics out there, and some that work for me might not work for you. Be the scientist. Explore what works for you and then let the rest of us know. Everyone, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Please share your ideas for turning off the TV.



Crucial Applications: New Year's Advice from Joseph Grenny on Forbes

Read Joseph’s latest columns on for tips and strategies for changing your behavior in 2013.

And Now for the Toughest Influence Challenge of All: Changing Myself

We have it all backward. We lament how the world is falling apart because other people won’t change. Health care costs soar because other people eat too much and exercise too little. The workplace is too political because others hoard information and resources. Others have dangerous political or religious views. Others are polluting the planet. And worst of all, “others” come to a full stop before entering the new traffic circles in my town. Sheesh!

That’s why we all crave the ability to influence others. If only we could get them to change, our lives would be better.

But over the past few years, I’ve gained an appreciation for those with the capacity to influence themselves. Unlike most of us, these successful individuals think of themselves as influence projects. They stand above themselves like interested scientists and consider the habits and proclivities of their favorite lab rats—themselves. By doing so, they develop insights, interventions, and strategies to behave differently.

Read more

Are You Facing Your Own Fiscal Cliff? If So, Odds Are You Got There the Same Way Congress Did.

I’ve about had it with TV pundits and persons-on-the-street who decried the self-interested, short-sighted, infantile politics of Congress during the infamous “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

It’s not that I’m not worried or irritated at the behavior that keeps bringing us to these predictable precipices. It’s that in pointing our fingers at Congress, we are distracted from looking in the mirror.

Read more

Trainer QA

Measuring the ROI of VitalSmarts Training

David Maxfield 

David Maxfield is coauthor of two bestselling books, Change Anything and Influencer.


This question was first asked on our LinkedIn Training Community. To Join visit us on LinkedIn.

QHow can I measure the ROI of a VitalSmarts training?

AThe challenge with any kind of skills training is that people can learn the skills, but then either fail to use them or use them in areas that don’t produce a return on the organization’s investment. For example, a participant might use the skills to save his/her marriage, jumpstart his/her career, mend a broken relationship at work, or resolve a long-standing customer problem. These are all positive outcomes, but they may or may not produce a return for the organization. This post is designed to show practitioners how to develop measuring and implementation tools that make sure their training results in significant returns.

1. Identify Crucial Moments, Failure Modes, and the Costs of Failing. Conduct an organizational assessment to identify leverage points where improvements lead to bottom-line payoffs. In addition, get a clear picture of what failure looks like in these crucial moments, and what it costs.

Example. We are working with a joint venture between two Fortune 500 firms. Their collaboration has great potential, but they’ve also identified six Crucial Moments when their teams tend to fail. Below are three of these six Crucial Moments.

  • Absence of Move to Action (lack of ownership and follow up). This crucial moment happens when one party believes they have a commitment from the other party to take action, but then they don’t see the action being taken. Sometimes there is ambiguity over who owns the task or has responsibility for executing it. Other times there are disagreements about the priority of the task, the timeline for the task, the resources that will be put toward the task, etc. In summary, people are not seeing the cooperation and responsiveness they expected.
  • Willingness to Increase Shared Pool of Meaning (Trust and Humility). This crucial moment happens when people begin to suspect they are being given a “sugar-coated” version of the truth. Often they believe others are hiding bad news from them, or that others are overly focused on protecting their reputations.  In summary, people are beginning to question whether they are getting the full truth. They want the good, the bad, and the ugly, and they don’t’ think they are getting it.
  • Unwillingness to budge on requirements. This crucial moment happens when the business or the project is unwilling to budge on requirements or timeline when more obstacles or difficulties are encountered than were assumed during initial scope.

In this particular case, the typical Failure Mode is silence followed by violence. People build up grudges for several weeks, often until a key milestone is missed, and then launch a round of blame directed at their business partner.

Measurement. We measure these Crucial Moments along four dimensions: frequency, severity, dialogue, and solvability. We ask participants how often they find themselves in each of these Crucial Moments; how costly the Failure Mode is when it happens; how well participants engage in frank, honest, dialogue during each Crucial Moment; and how quickly and successfully they solve the problem.

Our expectation is that the frequency and severity of the Crucial Moments won’t change. They are a function of working in a tough environment. But we expect dramatic improvements in dialogue and solvability. In other words, problems still happen, but now people solve them quickly and successfully.

2. Train to the Crucial Moments. If you haven’t identified high-leverage Crucial Moments, then participants will select their own targets—based on what they care about most. While their targets may produce excellent returns for the organization, they are usually too varied to accurately measure.

Instead, identify Crucial Moments and then use the applications and contracts in the training to focus on these moments. Make sure participants practice the skills to solve the problems you have identified as highest leverage. Of course, participants will still use the skills to improve their marriages and get their kids to complete their homework, but there will be a much better chance they will also use the skills to create a return for the organization.

Measurement. Build assessment points into the training. We measure participants’ efficacy expectations—their confidence that they can use the skills to solve the problems described in the Crucial Moments. For example, “How confident are you that you can use these skills to solve XXX when it happens?”

3. Employ all Six Sources. Often, training is the final puzzle piece that makes change happen. These are cases where the organization has built alignment around the need for change, and has removed the barriers to change, so that individual skill building is all that’s left to do.

But, other times, training is relied upon as silver-bullet solution to a problem that requires more than individual ability. Make an honest assessment of the non-training barriers that could prevent your training solution from working, then take action to remove these barriers.

Example. We often work with clients who need front-line employees to speak up to their managers, and who need managers to speak up to executives. We use our Influencer approach to help them discover the range of barriers—beyond training—that can prevent the honest dialogue they need. The intervention then addresses all of these barriers, often using the training as the context. For example, we might have the training led by the participants’ manager and focus the applications and contracts on speaking up to him or her.

Measurement. We work with the client to identify potential obstacles in each of the Six Sources of Influence, and then use surveys to track our progress at removing each of these obstacles.

4. Measure Return and Investment. It’s difficult to estimate returns. We focus our measurement on the Crucial Moments, and ask, “If this problem becomes one that is quickly and successfully solved, what would that be worth to your organization?” Often the benefits aren’t purely transactional; they also include benefits to the brand, to reputation, and to opportunity. And this makes them a bit subjective.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get the best estimate of dollar returns that you can. Involve multiple stakeholders and combine their estimates.
Investments are somewhat easier to measure. We usually include the costs of the training, of the time spent by trainers and participants, and any travel included. When a Six Source approach is used, then we add in the costs of the various non-training solutions.