Mel Zuckerman, co-founder of the award-winning Canyon Ranch Spa, has puzzled for over 30 years on the question, “Who makes sustainable change and who does not?” At Canyon Ranch, his goal is to help people live happier and healthier lives, yet, he notices that there’s a disconnect between what people know and what they do.
Nancy Kaplan, a dear friend, attended “Letters From Einstein – Equation for Change,” which I presented to the American Association of Orthodontists in Washington, D.C. My keynote on how we jump out of our deeply rooted habits prompted her to send me Mel’s article, “Creating Sustainable Change.” He says that a new field of behavioral research may provide the answer. He calls that field SDT – self-determination theory.
There are three components:
Autonomy — A person makes his or her own decision for his or her own reasons.
Competence — A person’s ability to have confidence in the process and be able to seek appropriate help.
Relatedness — A connection with others that provide a place with mutual respect and understanding.
At the heart of Zuckerman’s article lies the fundamental reason on how one can create change: focusing on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. Sustainable change will happen when the individual figures out the intrinsic reason for change. He sites a study of obese young people who were more motivated to lose weight and maintain their weight loss by their desire to be healthy. Less success was documented for those who were motivated to be more attractive, an extrinsic goal.
Zuckerman writes, “SDT identifies intrinsic goals such as personal growth, physical health, and relationships as being more satisfying goals than the extrinsic ones of being more attractive, acquiring wealth, or having fame.” Developing the intrinsic motivation — and aligning behavior with these intrinsic goals — provides the combination that can lead to sustainable change.