Today, I spoke to Kerry Patterson, who is the Cofounder of VitalSmarts, and the New York Times bestselling co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. His latest bestseller is called Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success. In this interview, Kerry reveals findings in his latest book, how to prevent bad habits in business, identifies the six sources of influence that work against us, and more.
We all know change is hard and can be discouraging, and that’s not because we’re weak willed and incompetent. That’s because we have a lot less control over our behavior than we think we do. There’s just too many outside influences that will combat even our strongest-willed efforts to change unless we use a model that counteracts their negative effects. When you read Change Anything, you learn that model and consequently put the control to change back into your own hands. Read Change Anything and you will have the knowledge to solve nearly any problem—from weight loss, to relationships, to finances, to career, you name it.
In your new book about personal success, what piece of research surprised you?
Perhaps the most surprising finding to those who have tried, but failed, to change their behavior is that willpower is not the answer. Change is not about gutting it out all day, every day. Unfortunately, however, most of us are stuck in the willpower trap. We believe our ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than our willpower and as soon as our willpower runs thin, we stop trying to change altogether.
The truth is, we have a lot less control over our behavior than we think we do—which is why willpower is insufficient to change tough habits. However, there is good news. We do have great control over the things that influence us. Successful changers spend less time trying to “gut it out” and more time wisely aligning the six sources of influence that control their behavior. In fact, those who leverage all six sources of influence are 10 times more likely to succeed at changing their behavior (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2008).
How would you define a “bad habit” in business? Can you give an example? How do you get rid of these bad habits?
As we researched the bad behaviors that sapped people from advancing in their careers, we found some startling trends. Eighty-seven percent admitted that their boss had been so unhappy with their performance that he or she prevented the employee from getting the pay, promotions, or other opportunities they wanted. However, these same people who are viewed as underachievers in the eyes of their bosses also believe they are in the top 10% of performers in their company. Clearly there is a startling gap between what they believe to be true about their performance and what they are actually doing.
This data tells me employees aren’t behaving in ways that add value to their organization. For example, they may be doing good work, but not in areas that affect corporate strategy or the bottom line. They may be working on projects that interest them, but are of little use to their supervisor. I’d suggest employees who feel stuck in their careers learn the three vital behaviors of top performers:
- Know your stuff: Top performers put regular effort into ensuring they are good at the technical aspects of their jobs. They work hard to hone their craft.
- Focus on the right stuff: Top performers contribute to tasks that are essential to the organization’s success. In order to have the right focus, top performers study their own company and then work on their skill set and access to critical tasks the company values.
- Build a reputation for being helpful: Top performers who take time to help their coworkers solve critical problems put themselves at the epicenter of important networks.
What are the six sources of influence that are working against us?
There are six sources of influence that explain why we make the choices we do. If you don’t understand how these sources affect your behavior then they will work against you—combating your best efforts to change. Those six sources include:
- Source 1: Love What You Hate: We struggle to change because bad habits feel good while good habits feel bad. Skillful changers use powerful tools to change their impulses.
- Source 2: Do What You Can’t: If change is taking too much will, it’s probably because you lack skill. Learn the skills you need to make and keep new habits and change gets far easier.
- Source 3: Turn Accomplices into Friends: Bad habits are a team sport—we usually have accomplices who motivate our vices. Peer pressure and the influence of friends and family is extremely powerful in influencing behavior change.
- Source 4: Get a Coach or Mentor: Coaches are crucial to behavior change success. We all succeed with a little help from others.
- Source 5: Reward Small Successes: For example, reward yourself with the money you will save by changing your behavior. Or “Put Skin in the Game” by putting the money you would have spent on your bad habit at risk if you fail to keep your commitment.
- Source 6: Control Your Space: Make physical changes to your environment that makes good behavior easier and bad behavior harder.
It has been so inspiring intimately studying the challenges and triumphs of our Changers. Who wouldn’t be inspired hearing how Michael V. got out of a 20-year cycle of addiction and crime; how A.J. lost 80 pounds and gave up a 2-pack a day smoking habit; how Patricia S. got her marriage back – and how countless professionals have increased sales, made themselves more promotable and gained more influence in their careers. But my favorite – if I’m honest – are those closest to home.
I know a young man who I watched suffer from his own bad habits for years. I shared an early copy of the book with him and he has been problem free for the first time in his life for many months now. And as gratifying as that is, what gives me the greatest hope for him is that he now knows how to think about both his successes and his failures in a way that puts him in control of change. He understands the science of personal success.
Kerry Patterson is the Cofounder of VitalSmarts, which has helped more than 300 of the Fortune 500 realize significant results using a proven method for driving rapid, sustainable and measurable change in behaviors. has authored award-winning training programs and led multiple long-term change efforts. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. His latest bestseller is called Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success. He received the prestigious 2004 BYU Marriott School of Management Dyer Award for outstanding contribution in organizational behavior. He did doctoral work in organizational behavior at Stanford University.