“If only I had more willpower, I could change…”
Have you ever said those same words to yourself on more than one occasion? You may have wanted to make a really important change in your life. You would have tried many times in many different ways to change without success. And so the only conclusion that you can come to is that you need either more willpower to do it or just don’t have any willpower at all!
Well I have great news: it is not willpower or the lack of it that is holding you back!
Breaking any habit that is not advancing us in the direction of us being our best selves is going to take some time. The question is – how much? If you do a Google search you will find somewhere between 21 and 28 days. The “it takes 21 days to change a habit” may have come from the book, Psychocybernetics, published in 1960 by plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He noticed that amputees took, on average, 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb and he proposed that people might take the same amount of time to adjust to any major life changes.
The truth is that it takes far longer to change a habit. Think about how long it took for you to develop the habit in the first place. Don’t you think it would take more than just 21 days to replace it with a better one?
Let me suggest that you remove the 21 day pressure to change from your life immediately. It might be more beneficial to work towards change in 21-day chunks, reviewing your progress after 21 days and adjusting to suit based on what’s working and what’s not.
In 2009 psychological research on how habits were formed was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Phillippa Lally and his colleagues from University College London. The question was asked after how long did it take for running 15 minutes a day to become automatic? The answer was, after about sixty six days, it seemed to become a habit. The research also suggested that:
- Missing one day did not reduce the chance of forming a habit.
- Some people took much longer than the others to form their habits
- Other types of habits may well take much longer…like those that involve addictive substances.
So I’m not letting you off the hook since whatever you’ve been working towards is beneficial to you in the long run BUT you need to understand what tools you need in order to effect long term sustainable change. Think about willpower like a proverbial hammer when you consider Maslow’s quote: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
In ‘Change Anything,’ authors Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler tells us of Six Sources of influence that affect our daily decisions and how we can make them work in our favor toward achieving our goals:-
- Source 1 – Personal Motivation – whether you want to do it.
- Source 2 – Personal Ability – whether you can do it.
- Source 3 – Social Motivation – whether other people encourage the right behaviors.
- Source 4 – Social Ability – whether other people provide help, information or resources.
- Source 5 – Structural Motivation – whether the environment encourages the right behaviors.
- Source 6 – Structural Ability – whether the environment supports the right behaviors.
So how would you apply these 6 sources let’s say to losing weight?
- Personal motivation: Do you want to lose weight? For example, if you don’t really want to lose weight, you’re not really going to try. It can’t just be for other people. It has to be for you.
- Personal ability: Do you have the skills, knowledge and techniques that work for you? Chances are you may know the patterns that work for you, or at least the patterns that don’t work.
- Social motivation: Do your friends want to go out drinking every night or encourage you to eat a lot at your favorite hangouts?
- Social ability: Is there somebody in your social circle that might have the knowledge or resources you need to help you get an edge?
- Structural motivation: When you go home, are you greeted by a big bowl of candy or a big bowl of fruit? Your environment can motivate you in a good way or a bad way.
- Structural ability: Do you have a way to workout at home? This can give you a big advantage in the long run.
I hope this example helps you see the power of the Six Sources of Influence. You can substitute whatever resistant or persistent problem you want to change. A keen supporter and advocate for the ‘Change Anything’ Process, J.D Meier says, “Walking the frame will help you quickly see where you can get your best leverage or where you might be stuck the most.”
Our challenge has just been thinking that all we needed as a tool was our trusty hammer – willpower to effect the changes we want in our lives. But what we really need is the willingness to leverage multiple tools – the Six Sources of Influence – to our advantage. The more we do this, the more we’re likely to succeed at and create lasting change.