How to Overcome Resistance to Healthy Behaviors

To live better, change your behavior

Six influencers of behavior change

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler of the business consulting firm, Vital Smarts, provide a model that you can use to embrace healthy behaviors. The basic idea of Influencer –The Power to Change Anything is that changing human behavior is often difficult because several forces oppose change or at least make it difficult. The authors propose a six-part model of sources of influence on vital behaviors. Changing entrenched, unhealthy behaviors, such as those that oppose quitting smoking, losing weight permanently, or exercising regularly, requires the artful use of all six sources of influence.

Most people are motivated to change their behavior but attempt to do so using only one of the six sources, namely personal motivation. When that fails, they tend to give up, thinking that the change they desire is impossible. It’s not surprising, then, that people who employ only one source of influence typically don’t succeed in, for example, stopping smoking. To be successful, they need to employ all six sources of influence to maximize the likelihood of stopping smoking.

The authors categorize the six sources of influence in a two by three matrix of basic factors: 1) motivation and ability, and 2) personal, social, and structural. The matrix yields six sources of influence.

Source 1 (Personal motivation): This what most people think of when they consider changing behavior.  Most of us see personal motivation as will power or self-control. Unless we’re motivated to change, we won’t change. The authors recommend learning to “love what we hate” by reframing our attitudes. If we can interrupt our negative impulses by connecting with our strongly held goals during crucial moments to temptation, we can greatly improve our chances of success.

Source 2 (Personal ability): Changing persistent and resistant unhealthy habits requires learning new skills and using new tools. Learn to do what you can’t now do. Employ deliberate, as opposed to casual, practice to speed skill acquisition and tool competence.

Source 3 (Social motivation): Unhealthy habits are almost always a form of social disease – if those around us model poor behaviors, we tend to follow them. The opposite is also true. We can turn accomplices who lead us toward unhealthy behaviors into friends who lead us toward healthy behaviors.

Source 4 (Social ability): Changing deeply entrenched unhealthy habits invariably requires help, information, and continuing support from others. Separate yourself from others who won’t support your efforts. Get a coach to provide immediate feedback to speed your rate of improvement.

Source 5 (Structural motivation): Directly link short-term rewards to the new healthy habits you are trying to instill. Make doing good easier than doing bad. Reward small wins.

Source 6 (Structural ability): Small changes in your environment can have a surprising effect on the choices you make. Attempt to structure good choices as default behaviors.

I recommend reading Influencer – The Power to Change Anything. The approach that Patterson and colleagues present will show you how to marshal influential forces to improve your health and well-being.

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