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How to Change Anything

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I ran across VitalSmarts -- a corporate training and research behemoth -- when I was teaching a course on social marketing at Tufts University. Their book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything quickly made it onto my syllabus, as they detailed innovative strategies from across the globe that had successfully reduced HIV transmission in Thailand and reformed gang members in San Francisco.

Now they've turned their sights inward -- after all, if we can reform society, shouldn't we be able to change ourselves? In the recently-released Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, Kerry Patterson and his compatriots have created a roadmap for individuals to gain mastery over their weight, their careers, their exercise habits, their interpersonal relationships, and more.

This is a book you can put to immediate use at work. My top five takeaways:

1. Identify Crucial Moments
Sometimes you'll finish a day and feel completely unproductive. You know you worked 8 or 9 or 10 hours -- but what did you actually accomplish? Patterson and company encourage us to identify specific "crucial moments" where we may have gotten derailed. Perhaps it's our obsessive e-mail checking (which can quickly lead to putting out random fires) or getting too caught up chasing an article citation online (when we could have simply asked a colleague). Noticing these moments is key to controlling them in the future.

2. Find the Right Team.
Some people truly want you to succeed, giving you sage advice and encouraging your efforts. And others may be dragging you down the path of extended coffeebreaks and carping about the boss (see my recent BNET article Are Your Friends at Work Holding You Back?). It can be a challenge, but you've got to cut the naysayers out of your life. We respond to our environment, and you don't want them polluting yours.

3. Structure Your Life to Succeed.
We like to think success is a matter of willpower -- but more often than not, it's actually a matter of structure. I always thought it was a good idea to bike more, but I'd usually be in a rush ... and I wasn't sure if my tires were pumped ... and I wasn't sure where I'd put my helmet ... so I'd invariably take my car, instead. All that changed when I moved to Boston years ago for graduate school, and parking rates close to school hovered between $20-$30. Thanks to the structural incentive, I quickly became a bicycling convert.

4. Proximity is Your Friend.
Studies have shown that -- despite the much-vaunted interconnectedness of the Internet -- distance and proximity matter to us greatly. Scientists are more likely to collaborate with peers who work on the same floor; you're more likely to work out if your exercise equipment is in your bedroom (as compared to the basement); and you'll eat more Tootsie rolls if they're on your desk instead of in the break room. So think carefully about the workplace behaviors you want to encourage, make them proximate, and watch yourself succeed. Having a professional journal on your nightstand instead of Sports Illustrated could make all the difference.

5. Don't Accept Lame Feedback.
I wish I'd had Change Anything a decade ago, when I worked as a reporter. It seemed like my editor disliked me more and more each week, because I clearly wasn't writing articles the way she liked them. Her profound advice to me? "Make it different!" Sadly, my mind-reading skills were lacking, so she continued to harrumph and redline every piece. Patterson and friends urge us to insist on specifics, because that's the only way we'll get better. We should ask for particular, recent examples until we identify the "vital behaviors" that are sought.

What are your top workplace success strategies?

Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.