Review: Change Anything

Book Cover: Change Anything

Kerry Patterson (of Crucial Conversations fame) and his fellow authors describe a framework for mastering personal change. For those of us who like facts they begin with the science, describe the six sources of influence when attempting to effect change – then cap the book off with real-life examples, practical applications of the six sources of influence allowing you to really understand how you could begin to implement the framework yourself.

Book Details

Title: Change Anything – The new science of personal success
Buy now: Amazon
Author: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Year: 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7499-5573-1
Format: Paperback
Extras: Online extras – No longer available (checked March 2020)

What did I expect to get out of it?

I was expecting a recipe to change things at work – i.e. how to either influence an entire organisation (or a subset of same) to do things better, smarter, etc. Boy did I pick up the wrong book … but I wasn’t disappointed.

What did I actually get out of it?

After getting over the initial surprise (mostly my ignorance!), I fell into what was a great, inspirational read. This book is about how to change yourself, which is ultimately the only way you can influence another person or organisation to even think about changing.

The book begins with “the science” – and has references to studies by the Change Anything Labs, as well as other external research and meta-analyses. The first thing the book tackles is willpower, or how believing in willpower isn’t going to get you across the line. It’s not that you don’t have enough willpower or that you aren’t exercising it enough – it’s just willpower is like brute force, you only have so much to give!

We then move on to observation and experimentation – what the authors call “Be the Scientist and the Subject” which is the process of making observations, hypotheses, and then running “experiments” on yourself. Rather than just bumbling along and hoping for the best, they encourage you to be deliberate about the process.

Part 2 of the book is all about the “6 sources of influence” with some tactics to engage each source:

  1. Love what you Hate – “Personal Motivation”. Visit your default future – create a vivid story for yourself if you don’t change. Talk about your goal in a positive light (mostly just by switching from negative to positive words!). Break behemoth tasks into small, easy-to-consume chunks – and make a game of it by turning completion of each chunk into a victory. Create a personal motivation statement with all of the above by documenting all the above points in a concise paragraph – and keep it close so you can read it when you are feeling demotivated!
  2. Do what you Can’t – “Personal Ability”. This source is all about getting the skills (and knowledge) that you don’t have, but need to succeed. Start with a “skill scan” to find your weakness and blind spots – can be direct skills (like how to budget) or soft skills (how to overcome peer pressure). Practice, practice, practice deliberately – the only way to truly grok a skill is to get in deep. Lastly, learn the “will skill” – this isn’t willpower, but devising strategies in advance that will help you to overcome moments you would previously have to use brute force to deal with, but now can do “substitutions”. The “will skill” recognises the fact that you can’t take yourself out of every tempting situation – sometimes you have to plough on through.
  3. Turn Accomplices into Friends – “Social Motivation and Ability”. This one is intertwined so counts as source #4 as well. Know who your Accomplices are (people who aid and abet your bad or unhealthy behaviours) as well as your Friends (coaches and fans who cheer you on – genuinely wanting what is good, healthy, and in line with your goals). Redefine normal – normal is an apathetic accomplice and makes people accept things that aren’t necessarily good, just because everybody else is doing it. Shift the position of accomplices by having a transformation conversation – let them know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you need from them. Shifting the position of accomplices is more influential because you not only remove a detractor but add a fan! Add new friends that share your new goal or life view. And lastly, distance yourself from those accomplices or detractors – if you can’t shift their position, you can dull their impact by spending less time with them.
  4. See source #3.
  5. Invert the Economy – “Structural Motivation”. This source is about changing the impact that goes with a behaviour, aiming to incentivise positives and deter from the negatives. Create rewards for yourself – but rather than punishments for bad behaviour or missing, leverage “loss aversion” tendencies. Use the incentives in moderation (nothing grandiose) and in combination with other sources of influence (personal and social motivations) to have the most effect. Reward small wins along the way rather than waiting for the big victory at the end to keep motivation up.
  6. Control your Space – “Structural Ability”. Things in our life affect our daily choices, and mostly sway towards the very things we are trying to change from! Build fences which are rules and actions that you take to avoid getting yourself in a bad or tempting situation. Manage distance by moving close (in time or space) to things which help you, and further away from those which hinder. Change your cues (visual, auditory, feelings) – add or remove things from your environment that start specific behaviours. Engage autopilot by scheduling appointments in advance, automating savings, etc. – you have to actively do something to avoid the autopilot! Use tools to your advantage.

All the information along the way is excellent – the chapters on the six sources of influence have practical examples littered throughout to bring the sources and tactics into the real world. What I found compelling though are the “case studies” in part three of the book. They deep-dive with specific examples around Careers, Weight loss, Financial fitness, Addiction, and Relationships. Five in-depth examples that provoked thoughts within me, mostly around “how can I apply this myself?”

What will I do now?

I’ll begin by taking stock of what I want to change in my life – picking one important area and applying the six sources of influence to it. There’s plenty of things I’ve tried to change through willpower alone and it has worked – to a point. At some point, the willpower muscle gives out and it’s easy to fall back to the bad old ways!

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