The 6 Sources of Influence: How They Bring Change Together

I’d like for you to imagine for a moment you have a magic wand in your hand. If you could wave that magic wand and change one behaviour in someone else, what would it be? And how would you influence that change?

Personally, I’d change something for Patty. See, Patty was my administrative assistant — and she was great! This woman in her mid-30s worked for me for several years. She was married with two small children. But she was a smoker. In fact, Patty and her husband had smoked for almost 20 years of their lives and Patty wanted to quit.

How Patty Quit Smoking

She tried everything. She tried patches. She tried gum. She tried medications. Nothing worked.

Wait. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know why nothing worked. When we look at someone like Patty, we often make what’s called a “fundamental attribution error.“ We assume Patty can’t stop smoking because she’s not personally motivated — she just doesn’t want to quit badly enough.

But there are six sources of motivation, not just one (Personal Motivation, Personal Ability, Social Motivation, Social Ability, Structural Motivation, and Structural Ability). When we only blame one source of influence for something, we ignore the importance of the other five sources. All six sources matter. Here’s how they made a difference for Patty.

One day, there was another vice president in my office. As he was getting ready to leave, he saw Patty — who had her cigarettes out. He stopped and made Patty a proposition.

He said, “Patty, let’s make a deal. If you give me your cigarettes right now and quit today, I’ll give you $250 in two weeks. And if a month later you’re still not smoking, the money is yours. But if you start smoking again, you have to give the $250 back.”

I overheard their conversation, so I jumped in. “Patty,” I said, “I want in on this! I’ll double your money! I’ll also give you $250 if you give up the cigarettes right now. In two weeks, it’s yours. And if you remain smoke-free for another month, you’ll have $500.”

Another vice president heard us. He said, “Patty, I’m in too!”

So, if Patty gave up the cigarettes for the next six weeks, she’d have $750. Patty turned the cigarettes over. Two weeks later, she was smoke-free.

How? Well, for one, she told all the friends she used to take smoke breaks with, “I’ve stopped smoking. Don’t ask me!”

Then, she told us after those two weeks, “Don’t give me the money yet. I want to make sure I can do this.”

At the end of the six weeks, Patty was smoke-free with an extra $750.

Was Money Her Motivation?

Money was motivating, but it wasn’t the only motivation. There was something else happening within Patty.

See, she’d always wanted to take her children to the beach. Her kids had never seen the ocean. Patty and her husband were in a tight economic situation and they just didn’t have the extra money for a vacation. This extra money gave them the chance to go.

There were other sources of influence at work too. Patty’s husband had high cholesterol and she wanted him to have healthier eating habits. But he claimed that healthier food was too expensive. But she realised that if they both stopped smoking, the money they’d been spending on cigarettes could help them afford a healthier lifestyle.

How All Six Sources Helped Patty

For Patty to really break her habit, she needed influence from all six sources. Here’s how each one helped her change.

Source 1: Patty wanted to stop smoking.

Source 2: She was able to hand over the cigarettes.

Source 3: Her circle of friends no longer asked her to smoke with them. In fact, those same friends started encouraging her to keep up the good work and stay smoke-free. Plus, her kids were really proud of her.

Source 4: Up to this point, her social structure enabled her to keep smoking. Her husband smoked too. So, she tried to help him quit too.

Source 5: The money — but don’t give money too much credit. The money just enabled her to do what she truly wanted to do (take her kids on vacation).

Source 6: Seeing the cigarettes lying around at home could still be a temptation, but when her husband stopped smoking, they didn’t keep cigarettes around anymore.

When we only look at one source of influence as a way to change someone else’s behaviour (or our own), we miss powerful leveraging skills in the other five sources. So, if you’re waving that magic wand and trying to change behaviour, consider all six sources. Only then will you see authentic and lasting change.

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