Changepower

Secrets to habit change

U.S. Senator Tweets Her Way to Weight Loss Success

Senator McCaskill uses social pressure to reach her health goals.

I'm so impressed with my U.S. Senator, Claire McCaskill!  No, she has not figured out how to get the economy moving again or balance the federal budget or earn my approval by voting the right way (i.e., MY way) on a particular issue. 

What she HAS done is lose 50 pounds in 6 months through a sensible program of healthy eating and exercise, according to the New York Times.   She hired a personal trainer and committed herself to walking uphill 2 miles per day with her "new BFF...Mr. Treadmill."  She focused on a healthy eating plan of protein and veggies. She controlled her portions. She made a decision to "divorce" bread and pasta but hoped they could be friends again someday. 

And she used Twitter to create this success story.

McCaskill initiated her plan by announcing on Twitter in May 2011 that, "I'm tired of looking and feeling fat.  Maybe talking about it publicly will keep me on track as I try to be more disciplined.  Off to the gym."  She has frankly acknowledged that another major motivator was cultivating the energy for her upcoming 2012 re-election campaign. 

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So why did McCaskill's plan work so well?  Consciously or unconsciously, she utilized proven strategies for her shape-up program.  These included:

  • Personal motivators.  Pride in appearance, a healthier lifestyle, desire for more energy, and campaigning effectively in 2012 all played into McCaskill's mix of positive motivations.
  • Resolving to change.  People who make New Year's resolutions (or resolutions at any time of year) are 10 times more likely to succeed 6 months out than those who want to change but don't make specific resolutions. 
  • Precommitment. As described by Baumeister and Tierney in their latest book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, the essence of precommitment is to "lock yourself into a virtuous path," like Odysseus did when he ordered his men to lash him to the mast to avoid the temptation of the Sirens' song.  McCaskill vowed to her 60,000+ Twitter followers that she intended to lose weight--and would have lost face had she not followed through. Weight or face?  For a politician, it's better to lose weight!
  • Public commitment.  Similar to precommitment, public accountability involves the purposeful use of social pressure to reach your goals.  McCaskill made a public contract with her followers, many of whom are voters, which provided an incentive to stick to her goals.   Some research indicates that public commitment works especially well for those who are susceptible to social pressure and genuinely fear social disapproval.  So this technique worked beautifully for an extroverted politician with a motivator to get re-elected!  (Introverts, you might need to find your own private path.)
  • Use of "changepower." Changepower means adding outside resources to your internal willpower. Rather than rely solely on her own willpower, McCaskill outsourced her willpower to a personal trainer to keep her on track.  Since research shows that our supply of willpower is limited and easily depleted, supplementing willpower with social support was a smart strategy.
  • Use of "the power of later."  McCaskill has temporarily renounced some of her favorite foods but hasn't ruled out occasional visits to them in the future.  This ploy keeps problematic foods from becoming overwhelming temptations.  

Here, in a CBS interview, McCaskill tells her successful weight loss story in her own witty way:

 

What obstacles might McCaskill encounter that could derail her?  If she's thinking of her program as a "diet" rather than as a "lifelong healthy eating program," she could become one of the 95% of dieters who regain their lost weight within two years.  Making decisions--personal and political-- could consume some of her willpower.   Lack of sleep could also sap her stores of willpower. 

But for now, McCaskill is holding her own.  She looks and feels more vital, and that vitality alone is a powerful reward for changing.   I'm betting on Claire!

In fact, I'm so eager to hear the next chapters of McCaskill's story that I actually overcame my doubts about Twitter and joined up.  I'm now a follower and a member of "Team Claire." Check out my Twitter handle below.

So, readers,  would any of Claire's techniques work for you?

(c) Meg Selig

I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.  For updates and commentary, "like" me on facebook and/or follow my initial stumbling steps on Twitter @MegSelig1.

Sources:

Selig, M. Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (2009).  NY: Routledge.

Baumeister, R. & Tierney, J. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011). NY: Penguin.

Norcross, JC, Mrykalo, MS, & Blagys, MD.  "Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers." J. Clinical Psychology, 2002, Apr; 58 (4): 397-405.

 

Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.

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