Motivated to Change, But Can’t?

If you are motivated to change a behavior, are you making a mistake in thinking that it is all about having willpower? While willpower plays a role, it is really more about having “skillpower.”

Changing  habits and lifestyle in order to positively impact wellbeing initially tends to be successful about 5% of the time. This is true whether the need is to quit smoking, lose weight, have better relationships, etc. Having a big plan that focuses solely on willpower is likely to fail.

Skillpower Trumps Willpower

Who hasn’t entered the cycle of deciding that they should change some behavior?  We want to change the behavior, and then we don’t.  Who hasn’t made sincere New Year’s resolutions that ended up  lasting only days or weeks?  Heroic, white-knuckling efforts usually fail as stresses eventually overcome the will.  Grim determination is much less successful than acquiring change skills, or skilllpower.  This is all about acquiring the skills required to accomplish true behavior change.  In the process, ”failures” can be reframed as opportunities to learn what does not work.  As you try again, adjusting to what you’ve learned, you can make the choice to not allow temporary setbacks to be perceived as a source of guilt and/or shame.  Each attempt is simply viewed as one of many that will eventually lead to success.

Control What is Controlling Us

Central to success is to address the factors we have unconsciously allowed to interfere with what we want. The forceful determination of willpower alone rarely works, even though your intent is that it will succeed.  So, making New Year’s resolutions, purchasing exercise equipment, dieting, or joining a weight loss center or gym rarely succeeds on its own.

Change is not easy, so try to avoid anyone who says  it is.  Accepting that there will be discomforts and planning for them in advance is crucial to your success.  Planning for discomfort can take on many forms and varies widely from person to person. Planning your personal path will be the subject of future posts.  In summary, some discomfort is to be expected, but most of the suffering is a choice.  Understanding the science of change can dramatically reduce discomfort and suffering while minimizing  the time it takes for you to achieve success.

Science of Change

Addressing this topic is beyond the scope of this article, but is concisely presented in this video – Change anything! Use skillpower over willpower

To summarize, first create goals that describe the specific, exact actions you need to do in very simple terms. If written in large letters, they should be able to fit on a 3×5 card. Next, understand the six sources of influence on your behavior. For example, seek friends who will help you rather than accomplices who will hinder your success.

If you have not succeeded in making a needed behavior change, you are likely aware of those crucial moments when old habits take over.  Identify those moments in advance and plan for them with specific alternatives, support and attitudes.
Make helpful activities easier and more rewarding while making hindering ones less convenient and more painful. This is the first step toward taking control of the things controlling you.
Plan for this to be a journey filled with hills and valleys. Keep in mind:

  • It is possible to turn your bad days into good ones if you are willing to learn rather than self-criticize.
  • Use trial and error over time.  What works for you will need to be customized to your personal preferences and environment.

New habits are skills grown from practicing specific activities that may feel a bit awkward and unnatural at first, but will become effortless and unconscious over time.  The first time you backed a car out of driveway, you did not automatically have the  driving skills (i.e. habits) that you gained over months and years of driving. That first time, you were most likely self-conscious and much more aware of what your hands and feet were doing than you are today.  It’s doubtful that anywhere near the same effort is necessary now when you drive.