We are all creatures of habit. This is a saying that we’ve all heard, presumably many times. And, considering it’s pretty straight forward, we have a pretty good understanding of what this means. But how deep does this really go? How ingrained are our habits? And why is it so hard to develop change, even when we know we should?
Our good friend Wikipedia defines a habit as a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to happen subconsciously. I like to think of subconscious behavior as an elephant and your conscious decision making as the rider driving the elephant. The rider likes to think he is in control, making intuitive decisions and taking deliberate action. But the elephant is strong, powerful and impulsive. So when the rider tries to pull the elephant in a different direction against its’ will, the elephant rears up and pulls you back down the beaten path (I’ll go more into the elephant and the rider in a later article, but I thought now was a good time to introduce the analogy).
So when you think about change in terms of taming and elephant, you get a better understanding of what you’re truly up against. Change is not about simply deciding to do something different and going to do it (although a select few of us may be able to do this to a certain extent). No, change is more specific than that. Change has a couple of different aspects that are involved which we need to develop in order to drop an old habit and ingrain a new one.
Just like applying for a new job or applying for a driver’s license, there are prerequisites we must meet inside of within ourselves in order to make change happen. For a new job you may need a certain degree, 3-5 years of experience within your field and have a clean record. For a driver’s license you need to be at least 16 years old (in most states), have your temporary license for 6 months and pass an eye exam. When it comes to change, we have to be ready, willing and able in order to even move towards making sustainable change.
So what exactly do I mean by ready, willing and able? Good question. Let’s break each aspect down one at a time:
Let’s say you were just told by your doctor that you’re pre-diabetic. He suggests that you make some lifestyle changes, otherwise you may be heading down a metabolic slippery-slope. You understand that you should make a change. After all, your health is in jeopardy! But maybe it’s just not that important to you right now. Even though you understand that, if you don’t start making smarter food choices, you will end up with full blown diabetes, there are more important things to you right now.
This boils down to a lack of discrepancy. The doctor may say that your health is in jeopardy. But, until you believe that there is big enough discrepancy between where you are now and where your health should be, then you won’t have the desire to take steps to make the changes your doctor recommends. Your rider understands that something needs to happen but your elephant decides it’s not important enough right now.
So let’s say that you have decided that making a lifestyle change is important to your health. You’ve created enough discrepancy between where you are now and where you should be, and you’ve decided it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. Then suddenly you think “What if I fail?” or “Maybe this is too hard” or “I wonder if anybody will support me?”.
You are able to change when you have confidence that you can do it successfully. Confidence is tricky because there are so many factors that play a role in it. Maybe you’ve tried dieting before and “failed” or maybe you worked out for a while and didn’t see results or maybe you don’t have a support system to help you along or maybe you’re simply scared of letting other people down. No matter what the reason, you have to have the confidence in order to make sustainable to change.
Once you have decided that change is important and you’ve built the confidence to be able to make the change, then you’re ready to move forward. So many of us dive head first into lifestyle change without actually assessing if we’re ready. Most of the time this leads to failure which leads to let down which leads to not trying again. The more often you try to change and fail to change, more likely you will be to maintain the status quo. Be ready for change and your likely-hood of sustaining it will increase exponentially.
With so much ingrained in us and so much influence on us, it can be tough making changes that need to be made. Everything takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be patient with yourself and get prepared for change so you don’t head down the slippery-slope of heartbreak and failure. Make sure your rider and your elephant are in agreement, then start creating the new path towards your goal.