Most people blame a lack of
willpower for their inability to change a bad habit. Helene Vermaak, Clinical
Psychologist and Principal Consultant at The Human Edge says that willpower has
little-to-nothing to do with whether people succeed at changing their bad
habits. “When it comes to kicking bad
habits, we have far less control over our behaviour than we think we do. So
much of what we do is governed by outside influences making us susceptible to
bad habits,” says Vermaak.
Whether trying to ramp up your
career, get your finances in order, lose weight or save a relationship, Vermaak
references the book Change Anything: The
new science of personal success – published by international partner
VitalSmarts – in which three steps to changing any habit are outlined:
- Learn what’s influencing you today
Vermaak says that
there are six sources of influence that work against controlling our
Personal motivation – left in a room
alone, would you want to engage in that behaviour?
Personal ability – left in a room alone,
do you have the knowledge, strength and skills to do the right thing?
Social motivation – are other people
encouraging the right behaviour and discouraging the wrong behaviour?
Social ability – do others provide the
help, resources and information required?
Structural motivation – are the rewards
(salary, perks, promotions) encouraging the right behaviour?
Structural ability – Does my environment
(tools, facilities, proximity to others) promote good behaviour?
- Remove things that motivate and enable the old behaviour
“For example, if your fridge is stocked with junk food, your
likelihood of eating fruits and vegetables decreases significantly and the
friends you meet at the coffee shop are really just accomplices who help
sabotage your goal to stop eating unhealthy cakes and sweets,” says Vermaak.
- Add things that motivate and enable new behaviour
Motivation is the
difference between waking before dawn to exercise and lazing around the house
all day. Rewarding motivation that leads
to new behaviour is critical for the ongoing success of changing bad habits. Small,
manageable ‘rewards’ for actions taken should be identified and delivered
through the process of changing a behaviour.
Vermaak says that it’s important to know that the likelihood of failure
at some point along the line is high. “Plan on failing occasionally and turn
your bad days into good data: ask yourself questions like ‘What did I just
learn about a new crucial moment?’, ‘Is there a better vital behaviour?’”
“Establishing rules for avoiding temptations in advance of the crucial
moments when you encounter them, will aid in the overall changing of your
behaviour,” concludes Vermaak.