How successful are you at changing for the better?
Most of us fail miserably at self-improvement. We have areas in our lives where we know we need to improve, but we just can’t seem to adopt the new, more productive behavior.
We may have tried several times to kick a bad habit only to slide right back into our comfortable rut. For others, they can’t even seem to get past the starting line.
Why is self-improvement so hard?
I would suggest it is because we go about it all wrong. We use a flawed approach. One that has failure written all over it. If we want to live life to the fullest, we’ve got to learn to successfully change for the better.
Why the Typical Approach to Self-Improvement Fails
I’ve wanted to improve my eating habits for a while now. I’m not overweight, but my cholesterol is higher than I’d like it to be. I know this is because I eat too much of the wrong foods and not enough of the right foods. I also know that elevated cholesterol levels significantly increase my risk for a heart attack or stroke later in life.
This should be enough motivation to change, but I’ve tried to modify my diet numerous times without much success. I switch what I eat for awhile, but I quickly fall back to eating the bad stuff.
You would think that something this serious would be easy to change. I mean how much more of a motivator do I need?
I’ve come to understand that the problem lies in my approach to change and not in my level of motivation.
When we want to create positive change in our lives, what do we generally do? The typical approach is to change all at once. We quit cold-turkey. We go for the dramatic turnaround.
Unfortunately, this generally doesn’t work. A great example is New Year’s Resolutions. How often are you successful at following through on the drastic improvements you embrace every January?
Don’t feel bad. I’d say that we are all probably guilty of this. It applies to so many situations. We seem to take the same dramatic approach in all of the following situations:
Quitting bad habits
Improving our relationships
Setting and accomplishing goals
Starting a budget
In each of these circumstances, the typical approach is radical change which rarely works. We commit ourselves to more change than our brains are willing to accept all at once. This sets us up for failure.
A Better Way to Create Positive Change
We are creatures of habit. It is the way our brains function. If we embrace this and incorporate it into our strategy for change, then we can significantly increase our chances of success.
I just finished reading One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer. I think this little book contains the key to solving the problem of self-improvement.
Maurer is the director of behavioral sciences for the Family Practice Residency Program at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center. He has spent years working with doctors and patients in creating effective strategies to help people change self-defeating behaviors.
He’s found that the key to creating positive change is starting small, very small.
You’ve probably heard the term baby steps before. Well, I think Maurer would say that what we often think of as baby steps are still too large for most of us.
First of all, we are up against our lizard brain. You know the part of us that is programmed to resist change even when it is supposedly for the better. Any strategy for change has to take this part of our psyche into account.
Second, there are often all kinds of practical constraints that we think limit our ability to adopt change. For example, when you tell a single mom that works full-time and does all the housework and is raising two kids by herself that she needs to start exercising 30 minutes every day, she is likely to laugh in your face wondering when she might find the time.
Maurer has found that such patients experience much better success rates when they very gradually ease into positive change. In the case of the single mom, he might prescribe that she simply start by walking in place for one minute a night while watching television.
This technique greatly lowers her resistance. Everybody can find one minute in their day to do something so positive. In addition, such a small step doesn’t awaken the fear of the lizard brain.
Now obviously, walking one minute a night isn’t going to have much in the way of health benefits, but Maurer has found that by giving patients assignments that lowers their initial resistance, they experience much greater levels of future success. Essentially, he tricks the brain into adopting the new behavior without setting off all the sirens in our heads.
Once the person has easily adopted the new behavior, then Maurer asks them to add a little more to their routine. It might take a few weeks, but eventually that single mom will be exercising 30 minutes a night, five nights a week. She will successfully implement the new strategies without all the resistance because she made the changes so gradually.
Small Steps Really Can Change Your Life
The key is to start so small that it is impossible to fail and then to incrementally increase your commitment. If you start to feel resistance, then back off your rate of change. It is better to go slow and succeed than to try to implement radical change and fail.
I really like this approach. I think it significantly increases the probability of successful change. Anything that lowers our resistance and makes self-improvement easier is a good technique in my mind. I’m going to give it a try and see how things go.
What do you think of this approach?