Stick to your resolutions by escaping the willpower trap

Stick to your resolutions by escaping the willpower trap

Posted by in Book Extracts, Book News, Non-Fiction, Recommended Reading

Research has revealed that over three-quarters of us fail to stick to our new year’s resolutions. Most of us blame our failure to make changes on a lack of willpower – but we are wrong.

The New York Times bestseller Change Anything explains that personal motivation isn't the only key to making lasting changes and provides you with the tools to escape the willpower trap and achieve your goals.

The willpower trap

Most of us make the same simplistic assumptions when explaining why we fail to change our own bad habits. When we fall off the wagon, go on a shopping spree, procrastinate over work tasks, or binge eat, we blame our failure on a lack of willpower. We obviously just don’t want it badly enough.

This simplistic view is not only wrong; it’s tragically wrong. It’s wrong because it’s incomplete. And it’s tragic because it gives us nowhere to go when we struggle to change our own bad habits or improve our lot. When people believe that their ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than their willpower – and that willpower is a quality they’re either born with or they’re not – they eventually stop trying altogether. The willpower trap keeps them in a depressing cycle that begins with heroic commitment to change, which is followed by eroding motivation and terminated inevitably by relapse into old habits. Then, when the built-up pain of their bad habits become intolerable, they muster up another heroic but doomed attempt at change. We feel as if we are ascending a summit when in fact we’re simply walking a treadmill: lots of effort, no progress. That’s the willpower trap.

We're blind

But mastering temptations is not solely a function of personal motivation. As it turns out, there are lots of different forces out there that are acting on us all the time.

For example, when you walk into a casino in Las Vegas, you’re practically assaulted by the crass influence methods the owners employ to separate you from your next rent payment. For instance, the hotel reception lies at the back of the casino, so you have to walk through a labyrinth of tempting game tables and cool-looking slot machines just to get a room. Then there are the chips you see in such abundance. Social scientists have shown that you’ll lose chips more willingly than you’ll let go of cash, so the casino owners insist that you play with chips. And who can miss the exciting sound of other people winning – Bing! Bang! Cha-ching! Oh boy, maybe you can win too!

These influence techniques are fairly easy to spot, but take care, because there are lots of other more subtle techniques in play – all carefully designed by individuals who have one goal: to separate you from your money. Casino designers manipulate the type and level of the music playing in the background, the colours and shape of the room, the length of the arms of the slot machines, the colour and pattern of the carpet. The methods of influence are nearly endless.

When it comes to more routine human activity, such as eating, drinking, interacting with co-workers and shopping, you could fill a library with books that explain how people are working feverishly to get you to act in ways that bring them huge profits while giving you unwanted pounds, a failed liver, divorce and bankruptcy.

That’s why when it comes to personal change, we first think of our own lack of motivation. Our primary problem isn’t that we’re weak, it’s that we’re blind – and when it comes to long-standing habits, what you can’t see is usually what’s controlling you.

Six sources of influence

Change Anything identifies the six sources of influence that affect your daily decisions and shows you how to make them work in your favour. Once we understand the forces that are acting on us, we no longer have to fall victim to them. We can knowingly design effective change plans. Our efforts won’t have to feel so random and serendipitous. We can profoundly improve our ability to make changes in all areas of our lives.

Source 1: Personal Motivation

Change Tactic: Interrupt your impulses by connecting with your goals during crucial moments.

Source 2: Personal Ability

Change Tactic: Change persistent and resistant habits by learning new skills.

Source 3: Social Motivation

Change Tactic: Bad habits are almost always a social disease – if those around us model and encourage them, we’ll almost always fall prey. Turn ‘accomplices’ into ‘friends’ and you can be two-thirds more likely to succeed.

Source 4: Social Ability

Change Tactic: Changing deeply entrenched habits invariably requires help, information and real support from others. Get a coach, and you’ll make change far more likely.

Source 5: Structural Motivation

Change Tactic: Directly link short-term rewards and punishments to the new habits you’re trying to form, and you’re far more likely to stay on track.

Source 6: Structural Ability

Change Tactic: Small changes in your environment can have a surprising effect on your choices. For example, just add a few visual cues that help you focus on your goals, and your behaviour will change rapidly.

Change Anything is available to buy now from all good bookshops. It is also available to download as an e-book from all the major e-book retailers, so you can read it on your Kindle, iPad, Nook, Kobo or Sony Reader.

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