This article originally appeared at Gen-i’

Prepare for Change: These are the Key Factors Influencing Change.

People are endlessly trying to make changes in their lives. They want to stop smoking, do more exercise, use their phones less. And at work too, the desire for or management of change is an ever-present phenomenon – especially today.

However, making changes happen in our lives – and making changes stick – is a task as difficult as it is familiar. We stop smoking only to pick up a fag a week, a month, a year later. We loyally go for a run three times a week for two weeks, maybe three – and then the three weekly runs turn to two, to one, and eventually maybe back to zero.

But why can’t we keep it up? Although we might really want to change, and whilst we may know we have to change, there is something in us that prevents us from doing it. According to Al Switzler, the bestselling co-author of Influencer and researcher into change, there is one thing that gets in our way on the road to our dreams and aspirations. And that’s our inability to control our own behaviour.

Prep Week.

In my HOW Skill Set, I identify five stages to the process of change: Intention, Insight, Identify, Implement, Integrate. Without taking account of the six influencers of change, you’ll never get beyond the third.

Because change doesn’t happen out of the blue. You need to lay the ground for it – psychologically, environmentally, and practically. This is what the six influencers are all about – because you can’t change unless you account for the factors influencing change, the factors that allow change to happen successfully.

Willpower – Only One of the Factors Influencing Change.

According to Switzler, our main problem is our total faith in a thing called ‘willpower’. We see people who manage to succeed, who thrive, who drop bad habits and cultivate great ones. And we tell ourselves and others that that person’s achievements are down to his or her will, their drive, their motivation.

But, for our failures to change, or to get where we want to be in life, we attribute all responsibility to a similar lack of willpower. ‘You didn’t care enough’, we say, ‘you weren’t committed enough’. In these cases, although you think you want something, part of you tells you that you didn’t want it enough.

However, Switzler’s research makes something of a nonsense of this. A study he conducted looked at 5,000 people – all attempting to conduct and stick to a change in their lives. Out of these, 4,400 of these changes ended in failure; only 600 actually maintained their change for over three years.

Do you reckon that only six hundred of these people had the willpower, the motivation, to change? No – that would mean that nearly ninety percent of us attempting to change our lives don’t actually want to. Whilst we say, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’, this doesn’t translate into ‘a will is sufficient for a way’. In fact, some cognitive research has said that a dependence on will power can actually obstruct the ‘way’.

The reason for the 4,400 failures lies elsewhere – and the things that are going to get you achieving your own change lie beyond mere motivation.

The Six Influencers of Change.

Enter what Switzler calls the ‘six influencers of change’ – of which willpower is only the first:

  • Motivation
  • Personal ability
  • Social motivation
  • Social ability
  • Rewards and incentives
  • Space

The problem with motivation, or willpower, alone, is that it’s terribly outnumbered. It makes up only one of the six key influencers of change. And so, no matter how strong our motivation is to change, that motivation is constantly battling with the things that will always be fighting to keep things the same: your habit, the expectations upon you of others, the physiological and psychology whims and fancies that may undermine your motivation from within.

Remember what we said in my piece on the psychology of change? It’s hard. There are, as Switzler says, a whole range of sources that control us – and only by gaining control of these can we start gaining control of our own behaviour.

Social Influence and Space.

The example he uses is of a weight loss bootcamp. Here, you have all of the six influencers of change served up to you. You have the motivation (that’s why you’re there) and the ability (as you will be taught that). Everyone around you will be encouraging you (your social motivation) and there won’t be the temptations offered by others (you have the social ability). The whole camp will be rewarding you for your performance, whilst the space you are in will be clean of things to obstruct your change.

You get back home motivated to keep going with your diet, but suddenly the other five influencers have ditched you. You don’t know if you can do it by yourself. Maybe, you have no support, and every invitation out is a challenge to return to past habits. Meanwhile, your house is full of treats and temptations.

Your successes immediately tumble, and you go on as before the bootcamp. Without the six influencers – without those key factors influencing change – no change is coming at all.

Subject, Scientist, Agent – How to Control Your Change.

The trouble with the bootcamp approach is that all the conditions that produced the success are thrust upon you. You are subject to new conditions, but you have not gained control of the influencers.

You need to become the agent of your change, and take control of the things that are otherwise influencing you.

This involves setting the conditions ourselves or, in Switzler’s words, becoming both the subject and the scientist in our study. What works for us? Where are the weakest parts in our plan? And how do we deal with moments in which we are at our weakest?

Switzler’s suggestions include three important things to consider.

Crucial Moments and Vital Behaviours.

There will be times at which you are going to particularly struggle keeping up with your new behaviour. In these moments, you will be most tempted and most willing to deviate from the plan. These will be your crucialmoments that need to planned for.

What you will need to plan is your vital behaviours. How are you going to respond in these crucial moments? How will you make sure you stay on track?

Bad Days = Good Data.

In these days, you need to be positive – no matter how hard it is. Temptations to revert to your prior habits are normal, but only with the right mindset.

These days should be treated only as challenges that provide data to perfect your plan (you’re a scientist now, remember). Who tempted you with a cigarette – and how can you talk to them in a meaningful way? Where were you that made you doubt? You’ll need to think about how you manage being in that environment again.

Remember All Six Influencers.

And finally, remember all the six influencers of change. Not just the motivation – as that won’t see you through on its own – but all of the factors influencing change.

Do you have the abilities that you will need to make the change happen? Can you ‘turn your accomplices into friends’ that can support you through your transformation? And how are you going to make the helpful things rewarding, and the bad things painful?

This is precisely what the six influencers demand.

HOW to Use the Key Factors Influencing Change.

  • Make a note of all of these factors. These will be central during your prep week – the week before Implementation in which you need to ensure that you, and those around you, are ready for your change.
  • One at a time, make ensure that each is working with you – before you start the envisioned change.
  • Continually return to them, to ensure that they are working for you. Remember, bad days are good data.


  • Nicola MacPhail

    Change Expert, Author & Facilitator


    A consultant, writer and facilitator. Based in Cumbria I coach clients across the UK and internationally. I write extensively on ‘The HOW Skill Set’ in addition to offering workshops, training and consultancy. Born from a passion to help others ‘Make Change Happen’, I help people make effective implementation plans, be more productive and leverage habits to implement vital changes and thrive in life and work!