Do you know why you achieved the things you’ve achieved? Do you know how?

We’re all excited and inspired when we see stories of transformation. In the United States, personal transformation is part of our cultural identity. We see ourselves as people who transform from the lowest status to the highest.

It’s little surprise, then, that a transformational story is gaining traction in social media this week. Produced by the Humane Society Silicon Valley, the story of Eric and Peety currently has over 18 million views on Facebook.

When we at Habitry saw this video, we were struck by how many different aspects of motivational and behavior change theory were referenced in Eric’s story. Let’s take a look at the story of his motivation and transformation.

The Origins of Eric’s Motivation

Point “Not A”

One of the messages that Habitry’s co-founder Coach Stevo often reminds other coaches is that many clients don’t exactly know where Point B (where they want to end up) is, but they’re extremely familiar with Point A. And often their goal is simply “get me to Point ‘Not A’.”

What was Eric’s Point “Not A”? He weighed 340 pounds, had high blood pressure and cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, and was taking $1,000 worth of medications a month. His doctor told him that he would die in five years if he did not change his lifestyle.

The Influence of Community

Even though Habitry focuses on teaching habits, we build community into every client’s transformation plan. Community is central, because belonging is the glue that makes behavior change stick.

You can see how a lack of community reinforced Eric’s Point “Not A” when he says, “I felt really uncomfortable around other people. I became separated from society and just stopped living.” A man traveling next to Eric one day “looked in complete disgust at me…that was my bottom point. That’s the point when I decided I’m either going to die or have to do something.”

The Process of Eric’s Transformation

Eric started by creating a small community to support his transformation. He hired a nutritionist. And at their advice, Eric looked to adopt a shelter dog.

One of the important aspects of communities is that they make their members feel safe. Eric chose Peety because Peety was “an obese, middle-aged dog” (reminding Eric of himself), and they formed “an inseparable bond”. Eric imagines Peety came from “a situation like [mine] — he didn’t have any friends, and he didn’t know anybody, and he became a proud dog.”

Process Goals Came First, Then Performance and Outcome Goals Followed

The fantastic end to Eric’s story is that he changed his lifestyle and literally prevented his own early death. Let’s talk about how he got there, because the story as presented in the video mixes up lots of different factors.

It’s not said in the video, but presumably Eric had set outcome goals of losing weight and reducing his blood pressure and cholesterol.

Then, Eric broke down these outcome goals into small actions he could repeat daily. For the first year, Eric and Peety walked for 30 minutes or more every day. Eric also changed his everyday diet (presumably with the help of his nutritionist) during that first year. These goals — walking every day, eating differently every day — are process goals, and like community, they’re another cornerstone of lasting habit formation.

Now, 5 years later, Eric’s goals have changed: he sees himself as someone who exercises regularly and completes races. After some period of exercising with Peety, Eric decided on a performance goal of completing a marathon. Performance goals are visible and memorable, but remember that for many people like Eric, process goals come first. And, in fact, Eric has a new process goal: instead of walking every day, he now regularly runs 10 mile distances with his second dog, Jake. Different intensity; same approach. And he’s got a new performance goal to make it fun: running a half marathon with his dog.

Autonomy: The Best Version of Eric

Now let’s talk about autonomy, another crucial aspect of motivation quality. Autonomy is defined by Self-Determination Theory as living in accordance with one’s values, or being the best version of oneself. Listen to how Eric started to allow himself to think about the best version of himself:

  • “Peety looked at me as though I was the greatest person on the planet. I decided that I wanted to be the person who he thought I was.”
  • “[Now] I wake up every day wanting to be the best person I could possibly be.”
  • ”This entire process brought me out of my shell and made me a different person.”

Eric even shares credit with Peety for his inspiration to run his first marathon. One could argue that Eric always wanted to think of himself as better than he was, but for some reason he didn’t feel comfortable with that idea until he could project it onto his companion. But what’s important is he found a way to allow that idea to become a core belief about himself.

A Warning from Habitry About Stories of Amazing Change

There are three things missing from this story of transformation that are worth pointing out:

  1. We didn’t get to hear Eric talk about the other changes he made in his life, like what nutritional changes he made. Any person who might be at Eric’s Point “Not A” watching this video might miss the fact that it wasn’t only walking and running with a dog that helped Eric pull himself out of a destructive lifestyle.

  2. That omission leaves more room for interpretation (or misunderstanding) regarding how quickly or severely Eric changed his lifestyle. It’s important to note that Eric’s big shift can be achieved with fairly small changes, not huge sacrifices.

  3. The video doesn’t go into much detail about who else supported Eric on his journey. Because he was so successful, we at Habitry suspect that Eric got a lot of support from a lot of people. (And we don’t think he failed to credit them — there just wasn’t enough time in the video.) If we were able to talk to Eric, we’d ask him who else he’d like to thank for help on his journey.

Coach Stevo explains the problem with typical transformation stories:

We congratulate Eric on his successful transformation! Is there any aspect of motivational or behavior change theory that you’d like us to go into more detail on? Leave us a note in the comments.

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