There’s a famous joke in Psychology that goes like;
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the bulb has to be willing to change.
For most people, today probably looks like yesterday and the day before. As humans, we get comfortable about our routines. So what happens if we wake up one day and realize that things aren’t going so well in our lives and we recognize that we need to introduce some changes. Do we change everything at once? Where do we start?
1. Turn your changes into a quasi-equilibrium process.
When I was in undergrad, it took me a while to understand the quasi-equilibrium process in thermodynamics. Such processes advance at such an infinitesimally small rate that their properties remains uniform at all time. The famous example they always showed us was compressing the gas inside a piston soooo slowly that its pressure remains uniform.
Which reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s quote,
“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…”
A lot of times we resist change because we set very high expectations and see ourselves upending our lives. Just the thought of that causes a huge amount of resistance, which explains why we tend to put things off until January 1…our birthdays…the next full moon…the next blue moon….
However, it’s more sustainable to overcome inertia by introducing small changes very slowly, in a quasi-equilibrium process. One practical example was applied in Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, where she did experiments focusing on one theme every month. For instance, January was for Boosting Energy and included experiments on exercising better and going to sleep earlier.
2. Aim low and hit it. I know Les Brown said, “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.”
But…when we’re changing our habits, we find ourselves struggling against many years of conditioning. This type of conditioning involves biochemicals and neural pathways that aren’t too happy about change. Think about it. We all know how sitting is the new smoking and how bad sugar addiction is, and yet knowing something on an intellectual level doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to do anything about it. Why? Because we’re not programmable computers that accurately run every piece of code we’re given. We’re human beings with emotions that go hand-in-hand with biochemicals such as dopamin and endorphin, and that partly explains most of the “irrational” things we end up doing during the day.
So when we want to build a new habit, it’s best if we start by aiming low and hitting it, as this would boost our motivation by kickstarting what Nick Winter called the success spirals in his book, The Motivation Hacker, and then success would breed more success.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
3. Tell yourself that the change is only temporary. Make it time-bound like 30 days, or 48 hours. A lot of times the changes we want to incorporate are not easy, which is why they’re not in our lives already. So it helps if we can give ourselves a deadline for the imagined suffering. If we see good results as a direct consequence of that change, maybe we would be motivated to continue. If we don’t, then maybe we can cancel it altogether and recognize this change is not really for us. Alternatively, we could build our willpower and self-restraint by increasing the time-limit. It’s just important that we don’t get too attached to the results as much as we get attached to the process itself.
Finally, where do we start? In the area of our lives we can’t stop thinking about. Maybe it’s our career, health, religion, relationships. For each one of us there’s an area that’s nagging us in the back of our minds, telling us to do something about it.
Last but not least ,remember that whether we like it or not, changes happen all the time – maybe it’s within us or outside of us – so it’s always best to manage that change and learn to surf its wave.
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