National Edition

Want better relationships, more money, greater happiness? Change your behavior

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

There’s a reason that date night — whether you’re a couple testing the waters to see if there’s a lasting relationship in the future or a married couple that stays strong by making time for regular dates — is a great place to look at not just your own behavior, but how it intersects with that of other people.


Joseph Grenny has a theory you can improve any aspect of your life — your career path, your family relationships, your personal health, how much money you’ve socked away — through a process of honest examination, followed by changed behavior.

Mind you, those aspects of life are each very different, so with each you’d have to change different things about the way you operate. But they’re all moveable and improvable. And the changes can be surprisingly small.

“It really does come back to behavior, said Grenny, co-founder of the training company VitalSmarts and co-author of the New York Times' best-seller “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success.

“Examine your habits and, if you change them a modest amount, you’d improve the outcomes.”

Nowhere is that more true than in personal relationships, where individual behaviors predict the strengths and weaknesses of the bonds. For instance, how people handle the discussions and other aspects of their relationship that are emotionally risky has the biggest impact on that relationship’s strength and duration. Little improvements have dramatic results, he said.

It’s a skill Grenny will share this Friday at Provo’s Community Date Night event (see below), where he plans to teach his approach to helping couples and their children overcome the bad behaviors that plague them, while developing happier habits that can transform family life.

“When it comes to personal health, we all know it’s about habits: exercise, stress, eating habits. Most people know the habits they need to change, but they don’t know how” in spite of “very, very practical advice from the social sciences for about 60 years,” he said.

Puzzled by how

Most people don’t know effective ways to put all that advice into motion, he noted.

The same holds true for spending habits, parenting habits and others. It’s a reflection of the same principles.

“One of the best things to do is pick an area that is meaningful for you to improve,” said Grenny.

An article in Harvard Women’s Health Watch noted some of the challenges of change, looking at health issues. The lessons are also applicable to other kinds of change. “Considerable research has been aimed at identifying factors that contribute to successful lifestyle change as well as more effective tools for clinicians — especially in the context of a brief office visit — to counsel their patients on adopting healthier habits. One problem may be that we’re motivated too often by a sense of guilt, fear or regret. Experts who study behavior change agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking.”

The article noted that goals are more reachable when they’re specific: walking 20 minutes a day, instead of "exercising more." It cautions against setting too many goals at a time, which reduces the likelihood of reaching even one.

Change does not have to occur in a “problem” area, either. You can have a good marriage and apply behavior change to make it better. That would be an aspirational application of change, the goal to move from good to great. Just picking an area to work on has the power to demonstrate how effectively change can make a difference, which can motivate other changes that can transform other aspects of life, Grenny said.

“You go to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.”

Date night

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