Research & Strategies for Changing “Bad” Habits
Change Anything is a book based on substantial scientific research on how to change even “long-standing bad habits.” Below are some notes (along with page numbers in the book) intended to be helpful reminders after you’ve read the book. They also provide a detailed overview process and sources of influence which can help change bad habit.
We’re Blind and Outnumbered top
With long-standing habits “what you can’t see is usually what’s controlling you.” p.9 Moreover, there are usually many different “invisible” controllers at work … not just one. These are two big reasons habits are often surprisingly difficult to change.
Escape the Willpower Trap top
Willpower is a good thing but in practice it is extremely limited and rarely up to doing the job all alone. Many if not most people think willpower is the only solution so they just keep on trying again and again. They end up on a treadmill with nowhere to go so when they fail then keep returning again to willpower until hope eventually disappears. p.5-6 An example is New Years resolution treadmill.
Change Anything discusses many scientifically-proven strategies and sources of influence which can help us to consciously overpower the many hidden controllers behind our bad habits. When these positive sources of influence are used in combination they are much more powerful than willpower alone.
If we can begin to
then we “can change anything.”
THE PROCESS: Be the Scientist and the Subject top
Because each individual is unique and has different perceptions of reality it turns out there are no cut-and-dried solutions to personal change. Instead it takes a stumbling process of learning by trial and error to create customized home-grown plans
“You need to study you.” p.27 Successful changers “studied themselves like they were specimens under a microscope until they had a plan perfectly suited for … themselves.” p.29
Below are scientific strategies successful changers used in this process.
(1) Identify Crucial Moments
Typically you are at risk during only a handful of moments, not 24 hours/day. Even powerful urges “usually subside over 15-20 minutes.” p.78 Therefore distract-and-delay tactics can work because “delay lessens the craving.” p.78
So start scanning for crucial moments. Look for specific conditions that create the greatest temptation, e.g., the times, places, people, and the physical & emotional states where you are most vulnerable. “Only you can systematically search for the conditions of greatest importance to your change.” p.32
(2) Develop Emergency Responses
Get prepared in advance so that you are not surprised when a crucial moment occurs. Do this by figuring out specific rules that outline exactly what to do when you are tempted. They need to be specific actions, not vague guidelines, to avoid the confusion that can often occur when you are under pressure.
“Crucial moments tell you when you’re at risk. Vital behaviors tell you what to do.” p.33 By knowing ahead of time exactly how you are going to respond “You won’t decide upon it each time; you’ll merely implement it.” p.41
(3) Engage All Six Sources of Influence
Don’t rely on just one or two positive sources of influence to make positive change happen. Certainly don’t rely on just willpower alone.
The six sources discussed later have been proved to effectively change people. However they must all be used together in concert to successfully overpower long-standing habits.
(4) Turn Bad Days Into Good Data
“No matter how brilliant your initial change plan is, if you’re dealing with long-standing habits, your plan won’t work.” p.39 Expect backsliding and temporary failures. Since bad days will definitely happen be prepared to make failure an ally by learning from it.
“Step back and examine the data, learn from what just happened, and then adjust the plan.” p.40 That is how to eventually come up with your own steadily improving, custom, home-made change plan. By becoming a curious scientist you can eventually win!
(5) Write Down Your Plan & Take Notes
“Repeated studies show that simply writing down a plan increases your chances of success by more than 30 percent.” p.43 Your first written plan should be very simple, even stupidly simple. It’s purpose is to get you started. Only after you start will you gain the experience needed to come up with a better plan and then another.
Many scientists take careful notes in laboratory notebook and then review, study and further organize these notes over time to help them understand their research. So should you! Studying your life habits is the most important research you will ever do.
“Learn what’s working and what isn’t, and make adjustments.” p.43 “If you keep a record of your evolving plan, you’ll make new mistakes rather than repeating the old ones. The goal here is not perfection, but progress.” p.43 A true master is not the one who has reached some arbitrary summit but one who keeps moving upward on the path of progress.
(6) Start Small and Start Now p.236
Get started by looking for the most obvious ways to build your personal, social and structural motivations and skills.
Don’t wait until you understand everything about the science of personal success. Just start with what is simple, easy and obvious to you and go from there. For example, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting your attempt to move forward by simply adding an idea or two from the book to whatever you’ve been doing before.” p.236 “View the Change Anything model as a way of improving your plan incrementally over time.” p.237.
“Just get started. Learn from both your successes and your failures, and then adjust. Eventually you’ll discover the right combination of tactics needed to help you change for good.” p.237
THE SIX SOURCES of Influence top
Change Anything lists six important sources of influence which psychological research has identified (i.e., personal motivations, personal skills, social motivations, social skills, environmental motivations, environmental skills) . Your first change plan should include specific tactics from each of them. Then keep on experimenting until you find the particular customized tactics and combinations thereof which, in concert, influence you the most.
Source 1: Personal Motivations (pM) p.47 top
These tactics change your personal motivations, i.e., “how you feel about both negative and positive choices …” p.63 They change how you think about the present and future and are only a thought away. p.64
(1) Visit your default future p.51
Really look at where you will end up if you don’t change directions. Most people, probably including you, skip over and ignore unpleasant truths. Instead use them to motivate yourself. Finding real-life examples of worst-case scenarios helps make the truth of where you are heading real.
(2) Tell the whole vivid story p.54
Make your story complete and vivid. Don’t slide by “rather than fill in the ugly details.” p.54 Tell yourself “the whole truth, the vivid truth, and nothing but the truth.” p.56
(3) Use value words p.56
Research shows that value labels definitely influence behavior. Therefore make an effort to create vivid value words that describe your positive and negative actions. Then use them vigorously. Be your own coach. Be your own cheerleader.
(4) Make it a game p.58
Gamify it by breaking big goals into smaller chunks with time limits. Then figure out meaningful, entertaining, visual ways to keep score. This will help transform “something far-off and fuzzy into something short-term and in control.” p.60 Also look for ways to gamify those boring chores.
(5) Create a personalized motivation statement p.61
Come up with a brief, simple statement loaded with vivid value words that is really meaningful to you. Find a concise way to envision for yourself what will happen if you do or don’t change. p.63 Then repeat your motivation statement often to yourself, especially when tempted.
These are good tactics for increasing personal motivation. However, don’t expect personal motivation to work on its own. It must be combined with the five sources below in order to generate enough power to overcome long-standing routines.
Source 2: Personal Skills (pS) top
We often are missing the skills needed to succeed and don’t even realize it. Most personal problems are “partially rooted in our inability to do what’s required, and rarely do we think about this because our lack of skill or knowledge sits in our blind spot.” p.68 Below are some tactics for improving your own personal skill set.
(1) Start with a skill scan p.69
“Find out what you know and don’t know as well as what you can and can’t do. This can be surprisingly difficult to uncover at first.” p.70
(2) Employ deliberate practice p.70
“Everyone needs practice. You’re no exception.” p.73 Deliberate practice involves (a) breaking challenges into small doable parts, (b) practicing these parts in short intervals, (c) getting immediate feedback on your results as compared to clear standards, (d) from a good coach. Use challenges “as opportunities to develop greater skill in the future.” p.75
(3) Improve will power p.76
You can also use deliberate practice to increase your will power. One good tactic to practice, for example, is “distract & delay.” Identify specifically what tempts you and “exactly how will you distract yourself.” p.80 Start small and easy to that you can develop the strength needed to resist increasingly larger temptations.
Source 3: Social Motivations (sM) top
Most of us are blind “about the role others currently play in the habit” we’re trying to change. “The goal is not for you to simply stand against the overwhelming sway of peer pressure—but to make it work for you.” p.83
Research clearly shows that we are all dramatically and unconsciously affected by pressure from peers or from individuals in a position of authority. Therefore it greatly behooves us to start becoming aware of the many subtle social influences around us and to develop our skills to redirect them.
Source 4: Social Skills (sS) top
Here are some social skills science has determined will help you change.
(1) Identify who are your accomplices and who are your friends. p.84
Accomplices aid and abet the “crime.” Don’t let accomplices influence you without you being aware of it.
(2) Redefine your vision of what’s normal p.93
Humans always move towards the “normal.” Who are the people and what are the practices you consider to be normal. Are they where you want to be? If not then you must redefine your vision of what’s normal. Start by finding some good models and then getting closer to them.
(3) Hold a transformation conversation p.94
Clarify to your “accomplices” what would make them “friends” of your good changes. Many will be happy to oblige if you communicate how serious you are about changing.
(4) Add new friends p.95
“The easiest way to exploit the power of social influence is to add new friends.” Just hanging out with good new friends can “help you see a new normal.” p.95
(5) Distance yourself from the unwilling p.96
Though difficult this is sometimes necessary. If your change is important enough to you then you must learn to distance yourself from those who are not its “friends.” Start by spending less time around them.
Source 5: Environmental Motivations (eM) top
“We can actually bribe and threaten ourselves to change.” p.102 Start looking for structural motivations such as incentives and be aware how insidious some of them can be.
(1) Use carrots and sticks p.103
Don’t forget to take advantage of the natural human aversion to loss of “carrots.”
(2) Use incentives in moderation and in combination p.107
“It typically takes only small rewards to work their magic.” p.108
(3) Reward small wins p.109
We know that “large, long-term goals become far more effective when they’re broken into smaller, short-term ones.” p.109 “Never make the mistake of attaching rewards to achieving your ultimate goal.” p.110 Also be aware that it’s best to “reward yourself frequently and in small increments, also take care to reward the right thing.” p.110
(4) Reward your actions, not your results p.110
“Results are often out of your control (at least in the moment), so link your incentives to something you can control—your vital behaviors.” p.110
“Reward what you do, not what you achieve.” p.110 Rather than waiting to reward the ultimate goal reward the small vital behavior that will eventually lead there. p.111 At the least, celebrate small steps!
Source 6: Environmental Skills (eS) top
Learn to control your environment. Things around us “quietly affect all our choices.” p.115. For example, research “show that people eat 92 percent of whatever is on their plate—regardless of how big it is.” p.114
(1) Build fences p.117
Add clear fences that keep you away from temptations you should avoid. Fences are simply intractable rules or boundaries you decide to follow in your life. For example, don’t even go near to your favorite bar if drinking is a weakness.
(2) Manage distance, delay & distraction p.119
“Humans are far more governed by distance than anyone would guess.” p.121 “Keep good things close and convenient and bad things distant and difficult.” p.120 Make it more convenient to do the things you should do and more difficult to do the things you shouldn’t. Just a little bit can make a big difference.
(3) Change the cues (reminders) in your environment p.121
Anything that “might grab your attention can affect your opinions, emotions, and choices.” Even “subtle visual cues appear to have an impact.” p.122 The best cues “kick you off autopilot and remind you of the commitments you’ve made and the results you want to achieve. They also suggest an immediate next step.” p.122-123
(4) Engage your “default” autopilot p.125
“We would rather not mess with things once they’re arranged.” p.125 Use this human tendency to your advantage by setting up positive defaults such as “standing appointments, automatic withdrawals, long-term subscriptions—and any other mechanism that takes advantage of your desire to avoid thinking.” p.126
(5) Use tools that make good habits easier p.127
Use your computer, smart phone program, or any other such tools that might help. Also, don’t forget pencil and paper. “Write it down. Next write down when you will try it.” p.130 “The simple act of writing will substantially increase the likelihood you’ll take action.” p.130
EXAMPLES of Change top
The book concludes with several detailed examples of how people have made challenging changes by applying the science of personal success. Reading these examples is another way to get ideas for tactics which might work for you!
* Career: How to get unstuck at work. p.135
* Weight Loss: How to Lose Weight and Get Fit, and Stay That Way. p.151.
* Financial Fitness: How to Get, and Live, Out of Debt. p.173
* Addiction: How to Take Back Your Life. p.192
* Relationships: How to Change Us by Changing Me. p.213
The Change Anything book provides a “careful way of thinking about the science of personal change … about crucial moments, vital behaviors, six powerful sources of influence, and the need to learn and adjust.” p.236
Its ideas and tactics are good start. But you will have to experiment to find out which specific ones work best for you. Usually you will need to create your own variation of a tactic to make it a better fit better to your own particular situation. Only home-made solutions, created by trial and error, will work. In real life successful changers tenaciously stumble their way to success p.xiii and you can stumble there too.
These ideas are proven by science. This approach has had much success with even such difficult changes as overcoming addictions. Seriously consider becoming the “Scientist and the Subject” … in order to eventually solve the most important and stubborn issues in your own unique life.