From time to time, we all feel the need to change something about us. Maybe we want to quit smoking or lose weight. Maybe we want to get more education or pay off our credit card debt.
Maybe we want to be a better student, or better at work. Maybe we want to be more invested in the relationships in our lives or develop a deeper spiritual connection with God.
Whatever it is that we want and don’t currently have, we have to realize that we have to change in order to get it. Like the old saying attributed to Thomas Jefferson goes, “if you want something you never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”
But this seems much more difficult in practicality. Many of us struggle to change, even though we know we need to in order to get better.
In Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, authors Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal say, “These days, we’re drowning in information, but starving for motivation.”
They go on to say, “Despite a chirpy self-improvement market peppering us with endless tips and tricks on how to live better, healthier, wealthier lives, we’re struggling to put these techniques into action. One in three Americans, for example, is obese or morbidly obese, even though we have access to better nutrition at lower cost than at any time in history. Eight out of ten of us are disengaged, or actively disengaged at work, despite the HR circus of incentive plans, team-building off-sites, and casual Fridays. Big-box health clubs oversell memberships by 400 percent in the certain knowledge that, other than the first two weeks in January ad a brief blip before spring break, fewer than one in ten members will ever show up. And when a Harvard Medical School study confronted patients with lifestyle-related diseases that would kill them if they didn’t alter their behavior (type 2 diabetes, smoking, atherosclerosis, etc.), 87 percent couldn’t avoid this sentence. Turns out, we’d rather die than change.”
Why is it that we find change so incredibly difficult?
Part of the reason is that we never really learned how to change. Most people assume the problem is motivation. So they pile on the guilt and the extreme reasons for change. But this makes it more overwhelming and less motivating.
The key is to break change down into small chunks and then turn those small changes into habits. Then over time you can add more and more change without worrying about what you changed already. Those previous changes have turned to autopilot and you can now move on to additional change.
But this can’t happen if you don’t start small, really small.
The small changes that are simple are the ones that can stick. But over time these changes add together and you start to see exponential growth because all of these things continue into the future and you add more and more positive behavior to the mix.
This is why in systems thinking these habits are called leverage points. They allow you to leverage a very small change into a massive improvement in the future.
So don’t be afraid of change but make sure you don’t make the mistake of making it extreme to try and gain motivation. Instead look for small leverage points and work on turning those into new, positive habits.