How to Change Your Behavior for the Better & Motivate Others

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Influencer" by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you change your behavior for the better? How do you inspire people to change their own behavior?

In Influencer, the authors state that in order for anyone to change their behavior for the better, they must look at two main variables: inspiration and skill. These variables affect behavior in many different ways that the authors get into.

Keep reading to learn how to change your behavior for the better by taking advantage of inspiration and skill.

Use Every Area of Impact to Change Behavior

We’ll explore six areas of impact identified by the authors and discuss strategies for influencing and changing behavior in each area.

To ensure that people adopt critical practices to achieve their goals, influencers must exert as much influence as possible wherever possible. (Shortform note:  Unlike the authors of Influencer, some self-help authors, like Tony Robbins, focus only on the individual’s ability to change their own behavior, without acknowledging the multiple co-existing variables that impact an individual’s conscious and unconscious decision-making.)

The authors suggest that two main variables affect behavior: inspiration and skill. They identify six areas of impact that influence people’s ability and desire to change their behavior:

  • Individual Inspiration: Do I want to do it?
  • Collective Inspiration: Do the people around me encourage me to do it?
  • Environmental Inspiration: Do the systems in place incentivize me to do it?
  • Individual Skill: Can I do it?
  • Collective Skill: Do the people around me empower me to do it?
  • Environmental Skill: Do the systems in place give me what I need to do it?

According to the authors, many would-be influencers make the mistake of trying to effect change haphazardly, attempting to make changes in only one or two areas at a time. This rarely works. Instead, the authors argue that taking advantage of all six areas of impact will all but guarantee that the critical practices are adopted. That being said, here’s how to change your behavior for the better, plus help others change theirs.

Fundamental Attribution Error

The authors make clear that in order to successfully exert influence, you must consider the skill and motivation of both the individual and their community. Interestingly, in the United States people tend to incorrectly attribute the root cause of all behavior to the individual—a phenomenon called “fundamental attribution error.” People overestimate the influence of internal factors, like personality, and underestimate the impact of external factors, like environment or social relationships.

Research has shown that more individualistic cultures, like the US, Canada, or Great Britain are more likely to fall into the trap of the fundamental attribution error and attribute individual successes and failures to a person’s disposition. On the other hand, collectivist cultures are more likely to recognize the impact of collective relationships.


In the next sections, we’ll discuss the first three areas of impact that affect people’s desire to perform a critical practice and change behavior: individual inspiration, collective inspiration, and environmental inspiration.

Individual Inspiration

The first area of impact is personal inspiration. How do you persuade people to adopt a critical practice?

There are several reasons why motivating individuals to adopt critical practices is hard, according to the authors. First, the importance of a critical practice may not be objectively clear to the people you’re trying to influence. Why change a behavior if you don’t see a reason to? Second, the critical practice required to reach a goal may not be immediately rewarding. For example, if the goal is to decrease cholesterol levels, one critical practice is reducing the consumption of fatty foods. Unfortunately, for many of us, fatty foods are immediately satisfying, even if there are long-term consequences. Long-term benefit is harder to sell than immediate satisfaction.

Collective Inspiration

The second area of impact influencers should focus on is collective inspiration. How can you use the power of community connection to inspire people to adopt a critical practice?

Humans are social creatures, and therefore our social relationships are a powerful resource to exert influence. The authors offer the following strategies as tools for capitalizing on social connection as a tool of inspiration: (Shortform note: Humans’ innate desire to connect and build relationships isn’t only emotionally beneficial, but is also a crucial variable in our evolutionary success. Our empathy has allowed us to build collaborative and mutually beneficial relationships that have contributed to our survival.)

Environmental Inspiration

The third area of impact is environmental inspiration. How can you use environmental structures and policies to inspire the adoption of a critical practice?

Environmental inspiration encompasses the use of rewards and punishments to inspire certain behaviors. The authors offer the following strategies for using these systems to reinforce internal and collective inspiration:

  • Remove roadblocks
  • Use rewards sparingly
  • Use punishment as a last resort


Having addressed the three areas of impact that impact people’s inspiration to implement a critical practice, we’ll now explore the three areas of impact that affect people’s ability to implement a critical practice: individual skill, collective skill, and environmental skill.

Individual Skill

The fourth area of impact influencers should focus on is individual skill. How can you ensure that people have the skills necessary to perform the critical practice?

Most importantly, the authors argue that effective influencers must believe in what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset—the understanding that you, and others, are capable of learning and getting better at something—because implementing critical practices almost always involves learning new skills. Instead of telling people what they need to do, effective influencers spend their time creating opportunities for people to learn and practice the skills they need.

Collective Skill

The fifth area of impact is collective skill. How can you ensure that a community’s skills contribute to individual adoption of a critical practice?

Our communities have the power to enable critical behaviors or deter them. For example, studies have shown that if people see more garbage on the ground, they’re more likely to litter themselves.

(Shortform note: While we’re influenced by those around us, people also have the desire to be distinct from one another. Jonah Berger, author of Invisible Influence, calls this tension the Goldilocks Effect—the human desire to be “optimally distinct.” While being a part of a group provides a sense of community and belonging, differentiating ourselves from the group reminds us that we are also unique.)

Environmental Skill

The sixth and final area of impact is environmental skill. How can you ensure that people’s environment encourages the adoption of a critical practice?

The authors note that our environment has a deceptively strong impact on our behavior, so it can be a powerful (and often underutilized) resource in influencing the adoption of critical practices. For example, many city planners are looking at ways to increase sustainable commuting practices, like biking, walking, or taking public transportation. Studies have shown that cities that invest in biking infrastructure see a significant rise in bike commuters. Changing the environment by adding more bike lanes or bike-friendly roadways results in a change in commuter behavior.

The challenge is that our environment is so much a part of our daily lives that it’s often hard to see the way in which it shapes our everyday behaviors. Because of this, the authors suggest that the first step is to become more aware of our environment. After that, we can start to discern how aspects of our environment encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

How to Change Your Behavior for the Better & Motivate Others

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.'s "Influencer" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Influencer summary:

  • A three-step guide on how to influence human behavior
  • How to change the minds of those who are unmotivated to change
  • How you can use the power of community connection to inspire people

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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