I had played the piano growing up and briefly played in a mediocre band in college. After that, the rest of life’s responsibilities crowded out the time I had to play the piano, and what few skills I had atrophied. Eventually, as an adult, I decided I wanted to play music again. I didn’t want to have to relearn what I had forgotten on the piano, so I found a sax teacher, bought a horn, and started taking lessons.
I have been playing for around twelve years now, and I still take lessons. The best lessons I have are the ones in which I leave feeling like I don’t really know anything about playing at all. During those lessons, my teacher has identified yet another weakness in my playing. I have to learn new skills to overcome those weaknesses to get better.
The Recipe for Smart Change
My teacher addresses my issues by first figuring out that something is wrong. He might find a problem with my tone on high notes. Then he identifies what I am doing wrong to cause the problem. Perhaps I am taking too much of the mouthpiece in my mouth so the reed is not vibrating enough and the tone is thin. Finally, he creates a set of exercises that will correct the problem. All of these problems reflect bad habits that need to be changed, and the purpose of the exercise is to create new habits that will improve my playing.
And that, in a nutshell, is the recipe for Smart Change. You need to identify the goals that you are systematically failing to achieve. Then you need to figure out what behaviors are causing the problem to determine what needs to be changed. Finally, you must develop a structure to support the creation of new habits to replace the ones that were causing the problem.
As simple as this recipe seems, it is clearly not easy to implement. Otherwise, you would be better at changing undesirable behaviors than you are.
How To Effectively Engage In Behavior Change
My core assumption is that the more you know about the way your brain works, the more effectively you can engage in behavior change. That means that you need to delve into the inner workings of your motivational system.
When you understand the way the motivation system works, it will be clear why your habits and your tendency to focus on what is good for you in the short term have such a big influence on the way you act.
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This book is written not only to help you change your own behavior and but also to help you guide other people to change their behavior. While most of the book is built on an individual perspective, it turns out that the same tools you use to change your own habits can also be used when your goal is to influence the way other people act.
Patience, Patience, Patience
As you start thinking about changing your behavior, I recommend patience. Remember that the behaviors you want to change did not develop overnight, and they will not go away overnight. Behavior change takes time, and you are likely to fail a few times before you succeed. You will have a hard time succeeding at making significant changes in your life if you beat yourself up after each failure.
Changing your behavior is difficult, and that means you are going to have to do some work if you are going to succeed. There is no magic incantation you can say that will allow you to wake up tomorrow and act differently. If you read this book straight through and then put it on the shelf and continue on with your life, then nothing will change.
Your Smart Change Journal
You are going to have to act on the instructions for the tools I present to work. To get started, you have to think about your behaviors and to plan for change. The change you want to make might be something in your personal life like losing weight or learning to paint. It might be something at work like picking up a new skill or working toward a promotion.
To help you on your way, you need to start a Smart Change Journal that will serve as a workbook for your efforts. You have a few options here. You can buy a shiny new notebook and get some colored pens or pencils. You can set up a document on your computer or tablet. (Or you can use the template for your Smart Change Journal that I have posted at smartchangebook.com. Just look under the “Smart Change” tab to download a copy.)
Whether it’s a physical book or a document on your computer, tablet, or smart phone, keep your Smart Change Journal in a handy place so that you can keep working on it.
Changing behavior is hard, but it can be done. The central problem is that your motivational system is not extremely effective at helping you achieve your goals. If you want to change your behavior, you have to overcome the efficiency of this system.
You can identify the behaviors that need to be changed by looking for systematic failures. You are guaranteed to fail sometimes, just because your resources are limited. When there are desirable goals you’re unable to achieve consistently, though, it is time to figure out how to reorganize your life to allow you to succeed.
One factor that makes behavior change difficult is that your habit-learning system helps you perform actions that have been successful for you in the past without having to think about them. When you have a behavior that continues to be rewarding in some way, but you want to replace it with another behavior, you have to overcome the habit system.
A second factor that stands in the way of behavior change is that you have a strong bias to want things that are going to be pleasurable right now rather than things that will be good for you in the long run. As a result, many of your systematic goal failures are likely to involve situations in which you tend to do what is best for you right now rather than what is best for you in the future.
Finally, the recipe for Smart Change is straightforward but not easy. To change a behavior, you first have to identify the goals that you are consistently failing to achieve. Then you have to determine the actions that are getting in the way of success. Ultimately, you have to develop a course of action for behavior change that takes into account the factors that sustain behaviors.
©2014 by Art Markman PhD. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
The Penguin Group/Perigee. www.penguin.com
About the Author
Art Markman, PhD, the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. As a consultant he has worked with large companies, including Procter & Gamble, for which he developed a number of training programs. He has worked with Drs Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen on two of their bestselling You books and contributes to their social networking website, YouBeauty. He is also on the scientific advisory boards for The Dr. Phil Show and The Dr. Oz Show. Art Markman blogs regularly for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, 99U, and Harvard Business Review online. Visit him on Facebook.
Another video with Art Markman: Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done...