Reviewed by: Dr. Charles Erlandson
"Change Anything" comes with a risky and audacious promise: if you apply the principles of this book to your life you will produce sustainable change in your behavior that will noticeably improve your life! To make such a huge claim about a topic of such immense practical importance is, indeed, audacious.
So does "Change Anything" live up to its claim? Yes, and No.
The fact that I think this book lives up to anything even approaching its bold claim is a high recommendation for this book. Here's what the book delivers that makes me believe that if you actually understand and faithfully use the principles of this book that you can, indeed, change many of your behaviors for the better.
First, the authors free us from a powerful mind trap: the simplistic belief that if only we had more willpower we'd succeed in changing our lives. The reality the authors argue for (persuasively) is that while willpower is still important, changing behavior turns out to be as much about "skill" as it is about "will." And the truth is that certain skills for changing our behaviors can be taught. The authors also point out that that often (for example when you go to Las Vegas into a casino) you can't see what's controlling. However, "If you can see it, you can change it." "Change Anything," then, is a book about seeing the hidden influences in our lives and using them to change our behaviors from ones with negative to ones with positive consequences.
The book opens with a series of fascinating experiments on children that provide evidence for all that the authors will present. Throughout, what the authors teach is supported by research experiments that are not only enlightening but also entertaining.
So why do we fail at personal change? We don't have enough influences working for us and working all together.
It turns out that there are 6 sources of Influence in our lives. These same 6 sources of influence can be used to either promote a healthy or unhealthy behavior.
1. personal motivation - tap into your existing desires and wants
2. personal ability - learn new skills to promote change
3. social motivation - turn accomplices into friends that help you make positive changes
4. social ability - use confederates to enable good choices
5. structural motivation - directly link short-term rewards and punishments to your new habits
6. structural ability - change your environment to one more likely to promote the change you want
For each of these 6 sources of influence, the authors provide specific strategies for change that will use this influence to help you change your behavior to something positive instead of the default negative behavior. Their identification of the 6 sources of influence, combined with their chapter-long discussion of strategies to change each of these influences, is an impressive accomplishment.
I don't want to give away too much of their work, but when I looked at the chapter on the first factor, which I thought might be one of the weakest areas, I was surprised to find the authors advocating that it is, in fact, possible to learn to love what you hate. If someone can change this, then change is very, very possible.
The remainder of the book, after describing each influence and its attendant strategies in detail, applies these 6 sources of influence and change to key areas of our lives that are what most of us care most about: career success, weight loss, financial fitness, addiction, relationships, and how to change the world.
This is an impressive book that has brought together in one place a simple, powerful, and reasonable means of changing our lives.
After such a glowing report, why do I say that the authors don't completely live up to their promise? Because I believe that the human heart is more corrupt, self-deceptive, and weak than they assume. I believe that there are certain things about our lives that, in spite of persistently and intentionally using their strategies, will remain unchanged. In spite of using a variety of influences as suggested, often the heart wants what the heart wants, even if it's not good for the body, the soul, or others.
Having said this, this is still an incredible book! I've read several books on change, many on finding your talents and using them, many other self-help books, and even more on leadership. "Change Anything" is a book that excels most of these other books I've read, and I believe that just about everyone should have it on their bookshelf. But don't merely "read" this book: put it into effect. I'm confident you'll be surprised at how different life can be.
By the way, this book also comes with a free code to access their website with a lot of additional information. If you liked this book, then you might also enjoy and benefit from Cialdini's "Influence." "Influence" won't teach you how to change things, but it will provide much more fascinating evidence about the things that influence us, often without us knowing it.
If you want to know not only how to change your behavior but how to influence others for good, read the authors' other book: "Influencer." It's probably even better!