If nothing changes, nothing will change.
Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Another way to put this is, if nothing changes, nothing will change!
The idea behind this is quite simple. If you don’t make changes, your life will stay the same.
If you don’t exercise, you won’t get fitter. If you don’t change what you eat, you won’t lose weight or get healthier. If you don’t switch off the TV and put the time into something more productive – reading, learning, exercising, building your business, etc. – another year will pass by and you’ll be in exactly the same place as you were last year.
This isn’t to say it will be easy. If it was easy, you would already be doing it. But the fact of the matter is, talking about something isn’t the same as doing it. But, if you want something, really want it, you need to realise that talking about it isn’t enough.
You must make the changes to your actions, habits and how you live your life, to get the results you want in your life. And, these changes need to be sustainable as it’s long-term sustained change that brings about results, not short-term quick fixes.
Why, oh why, is it so hard to change behaviour? Below are six reasons why change can be so difficult. Once you understand these reasons, you can take note of your own thinking and make adjustments to support the change process.
1. All or nothing thinking:
Have you ever said, or heard someone say things like:
‘I just ate chocolate; I’ve ruined my diet so might as well give up’
‘If this presentation goes wrong, my life is over’
‘I tried it once and failed so I’ll never be able to do it’
Generalisation such as these are known as selective abstractions. They are a cognitive bias (a mental shortcut, you aren’t even aware of, that influences the way you think) which focuses on one aspect and disregards all other aspects or information.
Changing behaviour can foster all-or-nothing thinking. “I’m going to charge in and change, and if I fail, that means I just can’t do it.”
It’s OK to have hiccups when making change. After all, you are trying to break the habits and patterns of behaviour that may have been ingrained for years.
What can you do to overcome all-or-nothing thinking? The first step is to be aware of it. If you catch yourself declaring an all or nothing generalisation, pause and recognise it for what it is. Then rather than automatically disregard the positive steps, actions or behaviours, feedback, etc. force yourself to think of at least three.
‘I just ate chocolate; I’ve ruined my diet so might as well give up’.
‘No, hang on, sure I at chocolate but I’ve also stuck to my diet for the last two days, I went for a walk this morning and I’ve my salad packed for lunch. I’m not giving up’.
2. Too vague and too big:
An important factor in goal setting is to be specific. Specific enough so you know exactly what it is that you want, you know the actions you need to take, and you can clearly measure your progress.
‘Loose weight’ is too vague. You need to know how much, by when, and how, otherwise, it’s too hard to measure if you’ve got there or not. Do you need to lose 1 kg or 20 kg? Do you want to lose the weight by next week or by the end of the year?
Behaviour or habit change also needs to be specific, not vague. Once you’re clear on your goal, what are the specific actions or changes you need to make. Be realistic with these. Don’t overwhelm yourself by going too big. Rather than stating ‘I’m going to start exercising’ and never getting around to it, start with something small such as ‘I’ll walk for 10 minutes around the block in my lunch break, and tomorrow I’ll do 12 minutes.
If you goal is too specific, get vague. If the change required to achieve your goal is too big, start small. The important thing is to just start. Every small thing you do sets you in motion and lots of small things built on over time will result in cumulative change.
3. Lack of strategies:
Relying only on self-control, will-power and motivation is often not enough for sustainable changes to behaviour or habits. It’s too easy to give-in, give-up or fall back to your default ways.
There are many strategies or tools you can use to support sustained change, some being:
Measurement – what gets measured gets results. Keep a daily record of your progress. Read more about measurement here.
Habit stacking – link your new desired action or behaviour to an existing one to increase your chances of doing it.
After/Before (CURRENT HABIT), I will (NEW HABIT)
For example, if you want to drink more water:
Before I go to the toilet, I will drink a full glass of water
Match your environment – notice the options/choices that surround you, eliminate those that might derail you (i.e. chocolate in the cupboard) and implement options that will help you succeed (i.e. a bottle of water beside you as you work). It’s known as choice architecture and can have a massive impact on you achieving your goals.
Accountability buddy – tell someone your goals, or the changes you want to make. Ask them to check in with you regularly. It’s easier to lie to yourself than it is to another person.
Daily reflection/journalling – Take five minutes at the end of each day to reflect on at least three things that went well during that day. It will help strengthen your neural pathways to notice success (and help with the selective abstractions mentioned above) and assist with keeping you motivated. Also use this time to set your intention for the next day.
There are many, many more strategies, it’s about finding what works for you to help you through the process of change.
4. Trying to change too much at once:
If you are finding change difficult, you may be trying to change too much at once. Instead, do one thing, do it well and then move onto the next thing.
If you are trying to take on multiple changes at the one time, you may find it’s too much, too overwhelming and you may just give up on all of them.
5. Viewing failure as the end:
If you try something new and fail, you’ve proven one of the strongest truths of behaviour change: failing is part of the process.
View failure as feedback, not a reason to stop. The feedback will reveal to you the areas that need more attention and the things you need to do differently. Failure is part of the process and should be viewed as a step, not an excuse to give up.
Steve Jobs summed it up perfectly:
“Embrace every failure. Own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time, things will turn out differently.”
6. You don’t want it bad enough:
As you’ve read, change can be hard and if you aren’t ready, or you don’t want your goal bad enough, then you won’t take the steps and actions required to get there.
You need to want you goal so badly that the thought of not changing is unbearable.
What is it costing you to not get healthier? Is it that you can’t run around and play with your kids? Is it the risk of not being around long enough for them?
What has not starting your dream business cost you? Is it the feeling of being stuck in a dead-end job you hate? Is it the missed income?
What is staying in that bad relationship really costing you?
Your end goal needs to mean more to you than the comfort of staying the same. The pain of not changing needs to outweigh the pain and discomfort of doing something different.
Change can be hard.
If there is something you want in life, commit now to changing something, even just one thing. It doesn’t matter what and it doesn’t matter how small, just do something. Because, if nothing changes, nothing will change.