On a recent Influencer programme, a delegate caught up with me in the break and asked for some advice on how to apply the Six Source of Influence model (above) to a personal challenge. They had been trying, unsuccessfully, to lose weight for some time. I could see that it was really important to them and that they felt a strong sense of failure. From my own experience, I was able to share that willpower, or being personally motivated, is not enough on its own.

I’ve always been overweight.  Actually, that’s not strictly true.  I’ve been over weight for about 15 years and I can trace this back to when I moved from retail (a highly physical job) into an office-based role. The pounds piled on. 

I’ve tried over the years to lose weight but, if I’m honest, initially I just didn’t have the motivation or the knowhow and eating poorly is just too easy – takeaways and ready meals were my staple diet. 

As a leadership development professional, I liked to think I knew quite a bit about motivation, but try as hard as I might, I just couldn’t get excited about eating salads and drinking water.  Like many people before me, I was making a fundamental attribution error – I assumed there was a ‘silver bullet’; one strategy that would fix my problem.

After my GP advised me that my health would start to suffer as I got older if I remained at my (then) current weight, I decided to take a serious look at this problem, and this time to look from all angles. 

On a personal level, I now had a little bit more motivation – I wanted to remain healthy.  More importantly for me perhaps however was my ability; I didn’t know much about nutrition and it’s not something I find particularly interesting.  I joined a slimming group that met locally and instantly this helped with my ‘ability’ to find a solution to my problem.  Through this group, I learnt which foods were good for me, which ones to avoid, how much I could eat and so on.

The group support also helped me enormously in terms of social motivation. When I’d had a good week, people were there to pat me on the back and on bad weeks they were there to pick me up. We shared stories and recipes and the thought of the weekly weigh-in kept me on track; I didn’t want to let the team down.

From a structural point of view, I blitzed my kitchen – gone were the crisps and biscuits, all replaced with fruit and healthy snacks like celery and tomatoes. I set myself some rules and when I’d had a good week and stuck to the plan 100%, I would treat myself with a small chocolate bar which satisfied my cravings. 

Through utilising multiple sources of motivation and ability, I managed to shed 3.5 stone (49lb / 22kg) in just five months.  As most dieters know, the hardest work is keeping the weight off, and again this is where I’ve applied the multiple sources of influence:

  • Personal: I feel great and want to keep feeling like this
  • Social: I’ve remained a member of the slimming group and still attend weekly meetings
  • Structural: I’ve refined some of my rules and processes and now have the discipline to apply them. 

One year on and I’m happy to say it’s still working, the weight has stayed off and I feel fantastic.

We often look for quick results by focusing on one source of influence. For a sustained change in behaviour, the key is to tap in to as many source of influence as possible – it’s a numbers game – the more sources you tap into, the more likely you are to be successful. This is true when tackling a personal challenge such as weight loss or any organisational challenge such as introducing a new initiative or improving safety performance.

By Jane Hodgson, Management Development Trainer at GRA

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