I recently read a report for marketers, the upshot of which was that luxury spending took a big uptick last year in the first three months of 2011, especially on nonessentials like clothes and accessories.

The report, and interpretations I saw of it on the Web, chalked some of this up to wealthy people simply being tired of exercising financial restraint due to social pressures, as it has been bad form for a few years now to buy flashy items.

But I was fascinated to see this sentence in the report: "Average consumers splurged more than their ultra-affluent counterparts, increasing spend by 3.3 percent while the ultra-affluent remained slightly more cautious, increasing spend by just 2 percent."

So, the sector of consumers doing all this Louis Vuitton and Louboutin purchasing was actually the same sector that had been so hard hit by joblessness and mortgage woes — not the upper class, but average consumers. This was stunning to me, given ultra-conspicuous frugality I’ve also witnessed in this same sector, post-recession.

Some commentators hypothesized that this spending surge was a result of a sort of frugality fatigue, where people who did actually hear the recession as a wake-up call to change their unsustainable and dysfunctional financial patterns — and did in fact tighten their belts — were, simply put, over it.

Book Review
Title: "Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success"
Author: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
Publisher: Business Plus, 2011; 288 pages; $26.99

I recently read a report for marketers, the upshot of which was that luxury spending took a big uptick last year in the first three months of 2011, especially on nonessentials like clothes and accessories.

The report, and interpretations I saw of it on the Web, chalked some of this up to wealthy people simply being tired of exercising financial restraint due to social pressures, as it has been bad form for a few years now to buy flashy items.

But I was fascinated to see this sentence in the report: "Average consumers splurged more than their ultra-affluent counterparts, increasing spend by 3.3 percent while the ultra-affluent remained slightly more cautious, increasing spend by just 2 percent."

So, the sector of consumers doing all this Louis Vuitton and Louboutin purchasing was actually the same sector that had been so hard hit by joblessness and mortgage woes — not the upper class, but average consumers. This was stunning to me, given ultra-conspicuous frugality I’ve also witnessed in this same sector, post-recession.

Some commentators hypothesized that this spending surge was a result of a sort of frugality fatigue, where people who did actually hear the recession as a wake-up call to change their unsustainable and dysfunctional financial patterns — and did in fact tighten their belts — were, simply put, over it.

And, like a croissant aficionado on Atkins too long, all bets were off. But instead of splurging on a $10 trinket, luxury leathers and blinged-out baubles became the target of their pent-up dollars.

We could go on, ad nauseum, about how nuts this is, but my immediate thought was that this behavior, though illogical, is, ultimately, extremely human. Creating long-term changes to human behavior — whether in the realm of health, relationships, personal finances or even career — is one of those seemingly simple problems that has stumped scientists for ages, occupying the same echelon of elusiveness as the cure for the common cold.

Enter Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, principals of Vital Skills, an A-list training firm with clients ranging from the Mayo Clinic to Lufthansa, and New York Times best-selling authors of several other books in the field of organizational change, with their latest: "Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success."

"Change Anything" reflects the authors’ translation of the strategies they have used to help corporate clients implement billion-dollar changes into a user-friendly system for individuals struggling with making permanent changes to any area of their lives.

Broke? Fat? They’ve got your back — actually, what they’ve got is a revolutionary yet simple way of looking at what is really keeping you from fixing what’s broken in your life, and a science-backed system for stacking as many decks in your favor as possible as you try to take your problem(s) on.

"Change Anything" starts out boldly, putting the evidence-based kibosh on the idea that willpower, or the lack thereof, is what stops us from making lasting changes. The authors make a compelling case that a chosen few, learnable skills — not sheer gumption, gut or willpower — is what actually creates lasting change.

Then they proceed to introduce and educate readers on those skill sets, and show how they have helped people in their Change Anything Labs apply these skills systematically to overcome a variety of common life challenges.

These success stories create highly relatable, empowering, and action-oriented templates readers will want to apply to their own lives and challenges, whether they are trying to overcome an addiction, get fit, stop dysfunctional relationship patterns, or avoid bankruptcy.

Often, when we try to make changes in our lives, like becoming more frugal, we have the intention and desire to churn up the motivation to overcome all of the marketing influences, cravings, lifelong habits and situational circumstances that weigh against the changes we’re trying to make. And it works, for a while.

Until Christmas comes and those logo-laden leather goods start calling your name, or you get weary of watching your wallet — whatever the case may be.

"Change Anything" illuminates these influences for readers, making them aware of the numerous forces that weigh against their desired life changes. Until we see and understand these forces, the authors argue, we are "blind and outnumbered" by the forces in favor of maintaining the status quo, no matter how harmful or limiting the status quo might be.

After removing our blinders, "Change Anything" equips readers with a learnable system they can use to harness those same influences for their own good, toward the end of creating the lasting life changes they crave.

"Change Anything" offers great life-changing bang for your book-buying buck, especially as its insights are applicable to any and virtually every change you need to make, now or in the future. The system it presents is simple, powerful and modular — the authors propose, and I’m inclined to believe, that even incorporating one or two of the strategies taught in "Change Anything" might be what it takes to remove the bottleneck to the changes you’ve been trying to make.

The authors also offer an inexpensive companion site online with a system into which you can program your various goals and plans for change in accordance with the system, to track and boost your chances of sticking with whatever your personal program is, at ChangeAnything.com.

The book comes with a free three-month premium membership to that site; in that three months, most readers should be able to apply the system and see for themselves whether they are able to truly change anything.

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