Happy New Year! For many the New Year means new beginnings which also means change. But change is hard. We’ve all heard that before, yet still we’re surprised when confronted with the prospect of change and just how challenging it can be.
One of the reasons is that most of our daily activities are done on auto pilot. In fact, research shows that 95% of our day consists of automatic behaviors and habits. Only 5% of our day involves conscious actions and energy. That’s the secret sauce. Energy! To create change – a new habit or behavior – you have to apply energy. So change that requires constant energy is destined to fail.
Consider the following example. The habit I wanted to establish last year was to have a healthy snack in the afternoon to prevent me from being so hungry that I devoured absolutely everything in sight when I got home! I told myself that each night I would pack a snack for the next day. That worked great for Monday and maybe into Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was already off track. I needed a new strategy that didn’t require as much energy to make it a reality.
Here are some strategies I find helpful when confronting a change:
Start small. A change that you are going to be confronted with several times throughout the day or week is going to be harder to realize as it will require constant energy. I ask myself if there is a way to break the new goal into smaller pieces that can lead to the desired change over time. One of the reasons change can be daunting is that we tend to look at the big picture of change. Generally with large changes (restructuring of an organization, etc.) we are not responsible for the entirety of the change but only a portion or piece of it. Focus on just that piece and when possible break the steps involved with the change into smaller portions.
Pair a new habit with an existing successful habit. Back to my example above. I realized that to make this change a reality, I needed first make sure to pack a snack and bring it with me – it wasn’t going to magically appear at 3:00! I do grocery shopping and fix dinner on Sunday night. So to get this habit to become a reality I paired preparing my healthy snacks for the whole week on Sunday while fixing dinner. Then I went one step farther and took the whole weeks’ worth of snacks with me to work on Monday and put them in my desk so that when other tasks throughout week demanded my energy, having a healthy snack didn't.
Change your mindset. Have you ever found yourself listing all the possible things that could go wrong with a new procedure or way of doing things before trying it? We, and others, rarely try to implement a change to make our situation worse. When I find myself putting up roadblocks, I stop and instead begin listing some of the positive outcomes that could be a result of the change. By eating a healthy snack I have more energy in the evening and I don’t have that uncomfortably full feeling when going to bed.
What are the consequences? Considering changing your hairstyle? Or maybe the color of paint in a room. If a change involves little risk why not just go for it! Implement changes that have minor consequences to get comfortable with the idea of change. In my case, there were some negative consequences to my not establishing this new habit (overeating, low energy, guilt, etc.) but no adverse consequences if the change was a success.
Do your research. Not all changes are as easy as changing your hairstyle or paint color. Often major changes like buying a house or changing jobs involve more risk. Take time to research possible outcomes and then determine if the change still makes sense. Can I live with the worst case scenario?
No change is final. As they say, the only thing that stays the same is change. I’ve found that sometimes even if the initial change isn’t a complete success, it might be laying the foundation or setting a pathway for where I want to go. Sometimes all that is needed is a few more tweaks and adjustments. Don’t give up on the change too quickly. You could be on the brink of something great!