SPP: Kerry first I just wanted to give our listeners a little background on you or what it is that you do and how it is you got to be a well- known author.
Kerry: Well I left Stanford University about 35 years ago and I through myself into organizations in trying to figure out what it take to actually change these places. These are organizations typically that were sort of led by authoritarian leaders very unhealthy, began to study what it took to change behavior, began to write books about this. I wrote a book called “Crucial Conversations” on how you talk to people when stakes are high then eventually move to the realm of self-help what does it take to change yourself?”
We recently studied 5000 people who had successfully changed something in their life people who had struggled for years, weight loss, spending addictions, bad habits, work, etc. had found a way to wrestle those to the ground and had been successful for three to five years and said “What do they have in common?” And we shared that in our book “Change Anything”.
SPP: The new book you have out is called “Change Anything”. The new science of personal success. I was hoping you could give us a little insight into that, and also tell us what you mean by the New Science.
Kerry: Well what we mean by the new science is in addition to studying these 5000 changes we pulled over 17,000 articles and looked at what the most contemporary scientific research revealed around personal change as well. There’s a time in the behavioral sciences frankly when you were kind of like witchcraft and alchemy. A lot of the work done 50 years ago didn’t really yield much results, but as of late there’s been terrific studies by a variety of people in a variety of locations would have been able to demonstrate change.
For example, William Miller who deals with addictions rather than typical 3% to 6% success rate experiences in the 70% to 80% success, maybe Selberg who works with people who’ve been to jail 17 times or more felony convictions has a 91% success rate. So the new science looks a bit at the new research around that. Our first finding when it came to personal change, to answer your question more specifically, was that people fell into what we call the Willpower Trap. They thought if they just used enough willpower they could overcome anything. I bought me a house of cupcakes next to a lake of hot fudge and I can eat vegetables. And low fat meat all day long because that’s how strong I am. That’s just plain wrong. It turns out people can’t.
In a recent study we found that people who use but one tactic and if that tactic was willpower they mostly failed. In fact if you used six or more tactics, and this was a big finding, you were 10 times more likely to succeed. If you come up with six tactics of influencing your personal behavior you’re 10 times more likely to succeed than most who just try to gut it out.
SPP: Wow! Yeah I looked through your book and I saw those six different tactics, and I’ll tell you one thing that really stuck out to me was you said off the shelf answers oftentimes won’t solve our problems because they’re unique things to us. I like that because all the times I like to think of new ideas and new business plans and I look to see has it been done, and if so was it successful. What I find is it’s almost always been done and then it’s discouraging because you’re like well it’s already out there let’s move onto the next thing. But what you’re saying, and I’d like you to go more in depth is you should stop looking at things that have already been done like you say off the shelf answers.
Kerry: Well it turns as you study the people who had failed for awhile and then found a way to exceed they broke from the habit of sort of taking their friends one best idea and trying it and saying “You know what I start with my new self and I’ll be the scientist and I’ll be the subject.” So the second principle is be the scientist and the subject that is you studying you. So here’s what you study. I in the process of writing this book decided I need to physician heal thyself. I was quite overweight and so I said “I got to figure out how to lose weight and what can I do to study myself?” I essentially lost 60 pounds I’m on my way to losing 100 so it was quite successful.
Kerry: Yeah. So the first thing you look at is you look for what we call your Crucial Moments. What are the times of day that you suffer with your bad habits? It turns out most bad habits aren’t a function of being tempted 24/7 they usually come down to a few crucial times during the day. Smokers when they’re driving home from work, drinkers when they stop by over their friend’s house, these crucial moments.
Once you’ve identified the crucial moments, in my particular case I mastered breakfast and that was easy, snack time was fine, lunch I was cool. Then the results came. Then came 8:00 in the evening sitting down in the old barcalounger reading and that refrigerator is calling to me. So I had to come up with a plan that suited my needs and the first thing I had to deal with for me was 8:00 in the evening and snack time.
SPP: Ice cream.
Kerry: Ice cream. It just be calling me from the refrigerator. SPP: Me too.
Kerry: The point I’m making here isn’t that that’s what you need to do in terms of your diet, in fact who knows first of all whether you want to lose weight at all, but whatever your change plan is you have to study you. You start by looking at where are the points? It’s called Positive and Negative Deviance. Why am I successful? What did I do that time? When did I fail? What did I do that time? I later found out that when I went to a restaurant with friends I was in trouble again. I took steps to manage my 8:00 in the evening I used distance. Moving the old barcalounger down to the TV downstairs. In my case moving 50 feet away from your refrigerator drop my evening consumption by about 80%.
Kerry: Yeah and so the physicality. Then I put my kitchen on a diet. What I mean by that was Brian Wansick who’s sort of the expert on eating habits and why we eat what we eat suggested that we now eat on plates that are the size of our grandparent’s platters that can increase how much we eat by as much as 30%. So I changed my plates and bowls and spoons and etc, and sort of one-by-one sort of step-by-step I applied various techniques that I read about that made sense to me under my circumstances and the problem I was facing. I became the scientist, I became the subject and I catered the program to me.
SPP: One of the things that you mentioned is the social motivation. Personally I found that groups on Facebook, different Web sites, anywhere that you can join a group to help accomplish a goal. Because I know I did like a little diet thing where I was trying to lose 15 pounds and I ended up talking to a bunch of people on Facebook. We were sharing pictures of what we were eating, recipes, and just kind of motivating each other on a day-to-day basis. I found that to be a huge help with that. So what have you seen with these new Web sites and social media tools that helps during this social motivation process?
Kerry: Let me first off frame the social within because they comprises two of six sources that we’ve referred to in our book. I suggested if you use six or more methods you’re 10 times more likely to change. The first method deals with personal that is how do I change myself in terms of what I like and don’t like. What I can and can’t do. The second is to deal with social which is when you’re referring to what motivates me socially, what enables me socially. Then the final one is dealing with the space around you the physicality, what motivates and enables me.
So now to answer your questions those two sources around how people help me they’re a profound source for most of us in both motivating and enabling us. We are social animals and people can help us in a variety of ways. I for example, got myself a personal coach. I thought the personal coach would help me learn how to lift weights, which was true I didn’t know how to do that very well, I could hurt myself. But he started posting what I was doing. He had charts he put them up on the wall. I’d walk into the place, he’d weigh me in. I had lost another three pounds. He’d walked me out into the gym and announced and ring a bell and say he’s lost two more pounds. This guy became a real force in my life and affected many of the various motivators and enablers that help you change.
So that’s what happens with the people around you. Some motivate, they’re cheerleaders, others are models and they inspire you by how they behave, others teach you what to do. So you’re suggesting they would send you recipes. They play the role of a coach in the sense that they’re giving you feedback at what works and what doesn’t work. What we found out we have to do, particularly with serious addiction problems drinking and drugs and the like, many people have to transform the people who are currently their friends but not acting like friends, are acting like accomplices.
They have to take these accomplices, these people who encourage them to eat inappropriately or to shoot up or to smoke, whatever they’re trying to deal with, and sit down with them and say “I need you to move from being an accomplice to being a friend. I really need you to help me do the right things rather than do the wrong things rather than do the wrong things.” That’s a very important skill set is transforming an accomplice into a friend. So all of this is part and parcel of this whole social media reframed. We created a Web site called www.changeanything.com with one of the major purposes being helping people connect with other people who are facing the same problem.
SPP: We will put a link to www.changeanything.com up on our Web site as well so our listeners can go check that out. Also, I wanted to ask you, and I know we’ve probably touched on it so far this interview, but you talk about invisible sources of influence and I was hoping you could tell us what you mean by that and then give some examples of what those invisible sources are.
SPP: So that we might be able to spot them in our own lives.
Kerry: Yeah. Let me suggest how we sort of stumbled on this. We were watching people as they were trying to change and we thought “What if we manipulated elements within their environments to get the behavior from their research subject into a room, had them earn money through simple gains? Then gave them chances to either save or spend that money. They then manipulated postures on the wall, the people around them said the incentive system, the tools for which they could calculate how much they saved or spent.
They manipulated all those under two conditions, one for people to spend their money, one group to save their money to see if we could actually get them to change. It turns out that the spenders spent like four times more than the savers did. They work exactly like we thought. Then we ask the spenders well gosh what happens? By the way, each of these groups vowed that they were going to set aside their money for something more important that was part of our setup. So we asked them how come you spent all your money ̧ and every one of them blamed willpower. They just said “Ah I just didn’t have enough moxie.
We asked the people who saved why were you successful in saving, they gave credit to willpower and they didn’t see the other sources around them. They didn’t recognize the peer pressure that was being exerted, they didn’t see the affect of the posters, the tools that we provided, and they just were blind to them. What I’m thinking is in his book on eating suggest that most of the things that are affecting our eating habits as I suggested earlier are everything from the location of your chair, to the size of your plates, to just eating with other people.
You eat 30% more if you have three people with you; you eat like 60% more if you have five people with you. People don’t recognize these sources and are greatly impacted by them. So what we try to do in their book is make them more visible so they aren’t blinded and you’re able to see the resources of influence. Then instead of having them work against them as I was suggesting turning an accomplice into a friend, you can take those very forces and use them in your favorite. I use distance that was working against me in my favorite by moving the barcolounger 50 feet away.
SPP: One of the part of the book mentions how to change your career and how to get unstuck at work. I find it more and more common that the people that I run into in my job and other friends that have different jobs feel like they’re in a position where they’re just not happy with their lives in terms of their career. What type of advice can you give, first on how to notice these things, and what those initial steps can be to become unstuck?
Kerry: So Step Number 1 is you’re suspicious that you’re not getting the advances that you should be getting, the promotions, the job assignments, and perhaps just projects that certain people are getting that you’re not. You can go directly to your supervisor and say “Help me understand from my own career path what I need to do differently?” Then work with them on identifying specific behaviors that are at risk. Behaviors range everything from mood control, sometimes you’re not getting promoted because you’re angry at times.
The three most common reason people don’t do well is because they don’t do these things well. Here’s the three things everyone needs to do, so let me just start off with that. You need to be very proficient in what you’ve been hired to do. That’s the obvious one, it’s obviously this. There’s a lot of people who hired in writing head copy who aren’t all that good in writing head copy or writing code, etc.
So the first issue is you have to ask yourself am I crackerjack? Am I right on target when it comes to the skills I’ve been hired to do?
The second issue, and this is a lot less clear to people but comes straight out of the career and success literature, you need to be adding to the elements of the organization that’s help solve its biggest problems. If you look at Jeff Stafford wrote years ago, 34 years ago, sort of talked about people helping an organization deal with their critical uncertainty. If sales are at risks and you can’t get your sales number up, you better be part of the team that’s improving sales numbers if you expect to be highly desired in the organization. Be part of those projects that are helping solve the company’s biggest problems. The third area is you need to be seen as a team player. That is someone who’s wanting to pitch in and help out other friends, colleagues and other employees willingly rather than being selfish and sticking to your own tasks. So know your job, work on the critical jobs within the company, and be a team player.
Now having said that, you’re still going to have to go back to your boss for other areas that may be at risk and start working on those as well.
SPP: That was great advice. I’m really glad Jon asked that question because I think that’s going to resonate with a lot of people. I know you give some real world examples in your book, and like you said, you kind of base the science off of people who have made it work in the past. Were there any real world stories about people who have made change that stuck out in your mind that you could share with us?
Kerry: I talked to the fellow and flying him out here to mount western where we live, a guy named Michael Votaly, and he had started the office that heavy drinkers shifted over to drugs, you know where the story is going. I mean from drugs it was like how do I get money for drugs, and he start stealing, he loses his family, his loses his job, he loses everything. He finds himself rock bottom in jail somewhere in Arizona and falls to his knees and says “Oh Lord, spare me.” Then has this huge transformation. In his words that was his defining moment and everything worked from that point on.
Well what’s intriguing about him, and actually another dozen people like him I interviewed with every one of them, this goes back to the willpower trend, they attributed to this moment where all of a sudden they gained this huge desire to change. When they hit rock bottom and had this epiphany they changed. Yet when you explored and followed up and said “Well gee, Michael tell me so you just never drank again?” Well actually when I got out of prison this time my mother let me come live with her. My dad had passed away and my dad wouldn’t let me come home. So now I went home and she introduced me to a guy next door who was a member of the 12 Step Program. He started identifying each of the six sources we talk about how they came to play and they were able to then motivate and enable themselves in much more effective and proficient ways than before.
Once again they were giving themselves credit by saying there was a moment in which I gained enough courage to gut it out and then described how they didn’t gut it out. What they did was they change their environment. This fellow Michael Votaly he had a transformation conversation with his friends and said “I can’t drink with you anymore.” And the three of them said “Tough.” He had to find new friends. He joined a 12 Step Program that was friendships you referred to earlier. You know he took liquor out of his home and just step-by-step by each of the six sources he’d changed his life by bringing more sources of influence to bear. That’s the only way he could do it.
SPP: Great. Then I go along with that and so if you don’t have anything specific that’s fine, but do you have the Number 1 or the biggest piece of advice you could give our listeners to start off to make change? is there something that is the first trigger kind of?
Kerry: Well I think that I’m actually going to, because I can tell you some things that stop study yourself, identify your crucial moments and say “Oh that’s what I needed.” Identify what you need to do, bring sources to bear to change those moments. I think the hardest part is when you fail. Even the word fail is wrong when you face a setback. You have to be prepared for setbacks. So you’ve taken off 10 or 15 pounds, you haven’t spoke to three days, and then boom you smoke, you eat and it’s like ah. People who are unsuccessful use that information to inform them about themselves.
They draw conclusions that they’re a loser I can’t do it. They start off with I’m bad at stopping smoking and then it’s I’m bad at changing my life, and then it’s I’m just a bad person. They get discouraged, they don’t try new efforts and they end up failing in lots of ways. You have to learn to turn a bad day into good data. You have to learn to turn a bad day into good data. So rather than saying “Oh wow I just fell off the wagon I’m a horrible person” you have to say “What happened today? Gee I was doing just fine, what were the circumstances?”
This is part of being the scientists and the subject, what are the circumstances that led me to doing the inappropriate behavior and how do I fix it next time? And you take that bad day and you turn it into goo data into a good change plan, you adjust and you move forward.
SPP: Kerry thanks so much for talking to us. I mean this has been great for me I’m sure for Chris as well. Our listeners I’m sure are going to really enjoy this. The book again is “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success”. Did you have any other areas that wanted to plug Web sites, personal Web sites or any books that are out there?
Kerry: You know well we have several books but we’ll stick with this one “Change Anything” the one that came out a couple of weeks ago. The Web site is www.changeanything.com. We’d be honored to have people give us a look and I’ve been honored to be on your program today, thanks for having me.
SPP: All right Kerry thank you so much.
Kerry: Okay. See you guys.