Many attempts to instil change fall short due to a poor understanding of human motivation and behaviour. As individuals, we need to understand why we may want to change something about ourselves. The idea of knowing ‘why’ is pivotal to any mission, goal or outcome (to gain a greater understanding see Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why). If we want to change something within ourselves because we dislike it or feel externally pressured, then we are likely to fail.
Take the following example:
- Sally presented with depression. She attributed this depression to being overweight and unhappy with how she looked. She believed that if she was able to lose weight then she would return to being happy. Sally undertook strategies to lose weight such as dieting and exercise, however, while her results were initially successful, the change was not maintained. Sally’s attempt to change was largely driven by the ‘how’ (how to change) and the ‘what’ (what to change), basing her decision to change on extrinsic reasons. It was evident that Sally did not accept herself and struggled with self-worth, determining her value based on her image. If Sally was able to approach change from a place of ‘why’ and from an intrinsic means, her desire to change would need to be driven by self-acceptance, compassion, understanding and an emphasis on valuing her health.
This may manifest as:
- Why = My wellbeing, health and happiness are vital to me.
- How = To take care of myself and maintain a healthy lifestyle I must eat well, exercise and keep a healthy routine.
- What = I will cook my own meals, achieve 8 hours sleep a night, wake up one hour earlier and exercise before work four times a week.
We can also take lessons from Everett Rogers’ formula of a tipping point for change. Much has been published on how long it takes to change a behaviour and develop a new habit. Typical figures range from 21 days to 66 days. If we work on the idea that change has to take place for 15 – 18% of the time (taken from 365 days) before it is naturally adopted, then this formula would suggest that Sally would need to maintain her new patterns of behaviour for approximately 54 to 65 days. At this point she would reach the tipping point where her new attitudes and behaviour take over and become her new way of living. Other factors that would influence her ability to adopt this change would be her available resources, such as relationships, family support, and professional services. If Sally had a supportive partner, a close family, positive friends, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and psychologist then reaching change may come earlier or with more guarantees of success.
If you are looking to change something in your life, make sure you understand why you want to make this change. It needs to come from a place of internal motivation, rather than being driven by external factors. If the change is about external reasons then it may be likely to fail. We have to believe in something to ultimately make change.
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Sinek, S. (2011) Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin Press.