Monday Myth Busters [Change Myths]

Hola mi Gente,

I have a couple of interviews lined up for this week so wish me luck. Looking for work has been very challenging, to say the least.

It’s January and by the third week of this month about 75-80% of the people who made resolutions will have either failed or stopped trying. It isn’t because we’re defected. More likely, we need to better understand change…

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The Beyond Help Series: Change Myths


One way of learning to change is to study people who have been successful at change. Do people who successfully effect change share common qualities or do they follow a set of patterns? The answer to that is yes. Maybe later this month I will post about change, but before I get into that I want to address what I feel are common misconceptions about change.

Myth #1: It just takes willpower

When I looked at a study that tracked over 30,000 successful self-changers, I found it interesting that their universal answer when asked what was the most important factor was “Willpower.” And this seems to verify what we all seem to know intuitively. However, when the studies examined what participants meant by willpower, there were two different definitions. The first is technical: a belief in our abilities to change behavior, and the decision to act on that belief.

The second, more common definition is that willpower represents every single technique, every effort under the sun, one can use to change. There is a logical fallacy in this kind of thinking that postulates it takes only willpower to change. This is a classic case of circular reasoning (Google it).

While there is some truth that self-changers use willpower, it is only one of several factors for change. Willpower is important, but according to the same studies, people who rely solely on willpower set themselves up for failure. If you believe willpower is all it takes, then when you try to change and fail, it would seem reasonable to conclude that you don’t have enough willpower. This will lead to beating on yourself and possibly giving up. But failure to change when relying only on willpower just means that willpower alone is not enough.

Here’s a good example (from a case study) of willpower not being enough. A young lady was very determined to do something about her obesity and began a program of change. However, though her determination was genuine, she was that our bodies can adjust quickly to dieting by lowering its basal metabolism, which in turn leads to burning fewer calories. She became baffled and discouraged when her diet didn’t work and eventually quit in disgust.

This is a classic case of using only willpower (commitment) without other change factors (in this case, consciousness-raising).

Here are nine other factors (processes) of change that successful self-changers use. I can’t get into it in full now, but I will in the near future for those who are interested:

Consciousness-raising — Consciousness-raising involves increased awareness about the causes, consequences, and possible solutions for a particular problem behavior. As in the above example of the dieting person, this involves learning new facts, ideas, and tips that support the healthy change.

Social liberation — Social liberation is about creating social support networks that help sustain change. It requires an increase in social opportunities or alternatives, especially for people who are relatively deprived or oppressed. For example, if you are tyring to stop smoking, perhaps staying away from people who smoke at the beginning can create the environmental support needed, especially in the beginning.

Emotional arousal — This about paying attention to your feelings. Become mindful about the negative emotions (fear, anxiety) that go along with the old behavior, and feel inspired by others who have made healthy changes.

Self-reevaluation — Create a new self-image through a Self-reevaluation that combines both rational and emotional evaluations of one’s self-image with and without a particular unhealthy habit. For example, one’s image as a couch potato versus an active person.

Commitment (this is where willpower comes in) — Commitment is really about self-liberation. It is both the belief that one can change and the commitment (and the recommitment) to act on that belief. Encouraging people to make New Year’s resolutions, public testimonies, or a contract are ways of enhancing willpower.

Countering — Countering is a form of substitution or sublimation. Countering requires learning healthy behaviors as substitutes for problem behaviors. Examples of countering include harm reduction techniques such as the use of nicotine replacement as a safe substitute for smoking or walking as a healthier alternative than “comfort foods” as a way to cope with stress.

Environment control — This is a reevaluation that combines both emotional and cognitive evaluations of how the presence or absence of a personal habit affects one’s social environment. For example, recognizing the effect of your smoking on others. It can also include the awareness that one can serve as a positive or negative role model for others.

Rewards — Rewards, or Reinforcement management, provides consequences for taking steps in a positive direction. While reinforcement management can include the use of punishment, successful self-changers rely on reward much more than punishment.

Helping relationships — Helping relationships combine caring, trust, openness, and acceptance, as well as support for healthy behavior change. Rapport building, a therapeutic alliance, supportive calls, and buddy systems can be sources of social support. This is what helps you create a lifestyle change that reinforces your attempts at positive change.

As I stated before, there’s a lot more to all this, but the main take away is that change is difficult but not impossible. I operate from the assumption that we all have the potential to create powerful positive changes in our lives, we just heed a how in order to realize our inner potential.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model (click here)

DiClemente, C. (2006) Addiction and change: How addictions develop and addicted people recover. Guilford Press, NY. (click here)


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