What’s your biggest remaining challenge?

Part 2, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

Hi, all! I wanted to continue to my second posts (see first here) about the Influencer by Patterson, et al.

But first, let me say, I really reflected on the last post. And, I feel really emotional about saying I believe, probably for the first time in my life, that I can do this. (Or else the little tear in my eye is just because I’m a little hormonal and I’m watching Paul Simon’s Graceland concert in Zimbabwe in ’87 (sniff), but hey ;-))

So, down to business.

The last post talked about figuring out what to change and getting yourself to buy in to the change (for real) and be willing to try.

This one’s about how to actually make the change happen. There are six ways, two on the personal level, two on the social level, and two on the structural/organizational level. I’m going to talk about the two personal level ones today.

The methods at the personal level are most effective, then the social, then the structural — but they all have their places. I’m using some at every level and developing more.

For each level, one deals with the motivation question (is it worth it?) and the other the ability question (can I do this?).


Motivation: Make the undesirable desirable.

How do you change the feeling associated with a vital behavior? There are two ways: new experiences and new motives.

For example, I used to say (and believe) that I hated exercise. Exercise was, for me, doing something I hated, such as video aerobics for a set period of time to punish my body for being fat so I could lose weight. Mmm, enticing, no? (Not.)

Experience-wise, what I told myself is that I wouldn’t do what I didn’t like. I do not do video aerobics. (I do have an emergency DVD I travel with and enjoy.) I love swimming and walking. Hated running (or so I thought). So, I starting going for walks at the lake. And taking my girls swimming. And being active for fun. I like bike riding, so I started riding my bike to work. And so on. Exercise and activity became pleasurable.

Other “new experience” tips:

  • Get people to try it. Make it an experiment. Heck, drug dealers on the street know this. Food companies sending you samples in the mail know this. I approach many things as an experiment now — I don’t have to commit forever (which taps into that disastrous all-or-nothing thinking for me). I can try it and see if I like it.
  • Make it a game. Csikszentmihalyi figured out that “almost any activity can be made engaging if it involves reasonably challenging goals and clear, frequent feedback.” Hello, Biggest Loser Blog Edition and Lazy Waister’s Triathlon. (Good job, guys!)

What about new motives? My hot-off-the-press discovery via this blog is that I like a challenge. You’ve heard me talk up the triathlon and now my running challenge. Sweating for an hour to lose weight someday? Not motivating to me. Being able to run a lap, two, three and improving in a week? Finishing a competition in the top five? Now, those are motivating. I manage people for a living and pay attention to who they are and what motivates them — but I never thought to do this for myself around weight loss. Duh.

Other “new motivation” tips:

  • Connect to a person’s sense of self — make the activity of personal significance. I set high standards for myself normally, but I started thinking of myself in terms of “an athlete.” I read books about marathons and triathlons and ultramarathons and mental toughness. I dress like an athlete when I work out. Knowing how fat I am (for now), that might seem ridiculous. But I have shifted my mental thinking from couch potato to athlete (evidence). (I have also learned a bunch about athletes that makes it all that much more attainable. That’s another post.)
  • Engage in moral thinking. Most of us “are on autopilot.” We are disconnected from our values. I’m not saying we don’t have them — but rather, we are acting without considering them. Brilliant quote: “It’s the lack of thought, not the presence of thought, that enables our bad behavior.” Stress makes it worse. We need to reconnect — “take our eyes off the demands of the moment” and look further out at the bigger picture. (Yes, easier said than done.) Practicing simple awareness and addressing stress have helped me tons here (yes, again, another post coming on this at some point!)
  • Connect behavior to moral values. “If people can make their behavior part of a broader and more important moral mission, they can do almost anything.” In the examples in the book (and in 12-step groups among others), you get it by helping others.
  • Spotlight human consequences. Rehumanize. I used to talk about myself regarding being fat in very inhumane terms. I refuse to do that any longer. The more I integrate myself as a whole human being, the less I’m able to abuse myself to the degree I did in the past.
  • Win hearts by honoring choice. One thing I did was quit dieting. I was tired of being restricted. Or rather failing at it. Instead, I’ve been using Intuitive Eating. I have choices. “Miller discovered that the best way to help individuals reconnect their unhealthy behaviors to their long-term values was to stop trying to control their thoughts and behaviors.” Replace judgment with empathy. Don’t lecture, question. I have been figuring out what works for me — not what the greatest diet is.

Ability: Surpass your limits.

It’s not that people don’t want to change, most of the time. It’s often that they lack the ability to change the vital behaviors — we “often underestimate the need to learn and actually practice” the behaviors. Ah, practice is key.

The messages in this section are very positive: there’s hope for everyone and much of will is skill. Successful people aren’t born, they are made. And we can make ourselves successful, too.

They did a fascinating food study that found people are either “grabbers” or “delayers” with regard to temptation. Before we all assume we are “grabbers” and give up ;-), the even better study followed. It said that grabbers can learn to be delayers — that delayers simply were more skilled at avoiding short-term temptations. They weren’t just born knowing how to avoid temptation — they “employed specific, learnable techniques that kept their attention off what would be merely short-term gratification and on their long term goal.” Boy, that blew all kinds of my “reasons” (coughexcusescough) right out of the water. It’s not a “genetic curse, a lack of courage, or a character flaw.”

One thing I learned through all my reading about athletes is that dedicated athletes practice differently. And I’ve learned this professionally, too. “People who climb to the top of just about any field eclipse their peers through something as basic as deliberate practice.” Superstars work on what they are NOT good at. Mediocre athletes work on skills they already have. (Amateurs spend most of their time chatting with friends and not practicing at all.)

So what kind of practice works? Something called “deliberate practice.”

  • Demand full attention for brief intervals. “Students watch exactly what they are doing, what is working, what isn’t, and why.” My blog and visual food and exercise diary certainly are that.
  • Provide immediate feedback against a clear standard. The scale. Lap times. Swimming techniques with a coach. And so on. I’m using the scale weekly. But I do challenge myself with how far I can go in a certain period of time and so on.
  • Break mastery into mini goals (highly important for maintaining motivation). Nothing succeeds like success. Top performers set their goals to improve behaviors rather than outcomes so they can see the changes immediately. Instead of losing weight, I’m focusing on running a 5k by end December. For swimming, I’m practicing Total Immersion swim techniques for my freestyle stroke. And so on. Rapid positive feedback builds self-confidence and increases the chances of success.
  • Prepare for setbacks: build in resilience. “People need to learn that effort, persistence, and resiliency are eventually rewarded with success.” The practice should gradually make things more challenging so learners can practice how to handle setbacks when they happen. If not, they become discouraged when setbacks happen. “When faced with a setback, we need to learn to say, ‘Aha! I’ve just discovered what doesn’t work,’ and not, ‘Oh, no! Once again, I’m an utter failure.’ ” Learning this has been so so important for me — no matter what happens, I get up and keep going. And I learn and adapt what I’m doing. Can’t drive by Dunkin’ Donuts without getting a Cappucino Blast and a Coffee Roll (about 1/2 to 1 full day’s worth of calories)? Drive a different way. Took me a few times to learn, but I did. I could have quit and just felt like a failure and felt like it was some unchangeable weakness, some character defect.

Self-mastery also includes what the authors call “emotional skills.” I won’t go into details, but I spent a great deal of time at the Rice House learning about the brain and how we have two modes: survival and thinking. While both are important, too often some things (like food decisions) are made by the survival part of our brain before our thinking part can kick in. “That’s why, in spite of the fact that we’re committed to a vital behavior, we often crumble at stressful moments.”

The good news is this is learnable. Lots of things didn’t work, including willpower, focusing on rewards, thinking about failure. What did work was to distract, postpone, and talk back. Then, you can kick start the thinking part of your brain and make a better decision. I know this is true for me, but it’s been very hard and I have to be really conscious and deliberate about it. This book certainly reinforced that I need to practice and practice and practice.

In short (ha! sorry, this ended up being really long!), the right kind of practice is key.

Social and Structural methods next…

Come back this week for the Social and Structural methods of making change happen.

Of the personal methods, what works for you? What are you doing? What are you going to try?

Mon, October 6 2008 » Humor, Motivation, Persistence, Progress, Strategy, Stress eating, Useful tools

9 Responses

  1. Dinah Soar October 6 2008 @ 9:16 am

    Thanks for pointing me to the Influencer posts…great posts..gleaned several helpful things…thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next installment!

    I’m going to focus on my behaviors more than the goal and set mini-goals to improve desired behaviors.

  2. M October 6 2008 @ 9:32 am

    Fantastic insight with so much well thought out direction! Important —> Prepare for setbacks: build in resilience. โ€œPeople need to learn that effort, persistence, and resiliency are eventually rewarded with success.โ€<—–

    This one is a keeper! Thank you!

  3. Alexia October 6 2008 @ 9:40 am

    Thanks, guys — lots of “oh!”s and “aha!”s going on in my brain. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Sarah October 6 2008 @ 6:56 pm

    I already used the “delay” tactic — found myself staring into the pantry for no apparent reason, getting ready to reach for something I didn’t need (this was shortly after dinner!). Told myself that I could have it in 5 minutes.

    Five minutes later, that “Must. Eat. NOW!!!” feeling is gone.

    But at the time, I had the “if I don’t get something to eat IMMEDIATELY, I AM GOING TO DIE!!!” feeling.

  5. Alexia October 6 2008 @ 8:35 pm

    Love that one — the power of procrastination for good, not evil! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Laura October 7 2008 @ 11:15 am

    that was a freakin’ great post. Thank you so much for that.

  7. Alexia October 7 2008 @ 11:22 am

    So glad it was helpful, Laura! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. MizFit October 8 2008 @ 4:35 am

    so interesting and I look forward to more…creative & insightful and JUST WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR THIS MORING.

    off to take on my day—

  9. rosabel October 11 2008 @ 10:32 am

    Great tips! Most important as you said, practice!

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