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:
Vermaak says that there are six sources of influence that work against controlling our behaviour.
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?
"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.
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.