One reason that has made change in my life so challenging is explained in part by what psychologists say is the primary response to thinking of change: FEAR. In a book called “This year I will…”, Andy Ryan, an expert in collaborative thinking, spelled out why change is difficult: Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain…If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do.
Described by psychologist A. J. Schuler, some fears that get in the way of change are :
The risk of change seems greater than the risk of standing still.
We feel connected to other people who identify with the old way.
We lack role models for the new activity
We fear failure
We feel overwhelmed
Our self-image is threatened
We are reluctant to learn something new
In Andy Ryan’s book she (yes, “Andy” is a she) says the first step toward successful change is NOT to try to kill off old habits because once those ruts of procedure are worn into our psyche, they’re there buried deep. She says the first step is instead to deliberately ingrain new habits to create parallel roadways that we can use to bypass those old paths. Instead of thinking “I can’t change” the trick is to instill a new habit that in time can be used to overcome the old habit. That makes sense to me.
Those who study such things say the more we instill new habits, the more creative we become in stepping outside our comfort zone in all ways. I have personal proof of that through my new habit of getting up much earlier than I ever have (on average about 5:30am now). That tweak on my lifestyle has caused a wave of subtle changes I did not expect. For example, I find now I am more social, especially on weekends. Where I used to sleep late and often just be lazy and hang out at home alone, I now spend a lot more weekend time with people I care about. Some weekend extra snooze time still exists, but I am up now around 7am on Saturday and Sunday replacing my 10am or later previous rising time.
Another point psychologists make is that lots of small changes are more likely to be successful than trying to make one large change. There is a Japanese concept called “Kaizen” or “change for the better” that has been used in business for over 50 years. The word originated from the Japanese words “kai” which means “change” or “to correct” and “zen” which means “good”. The premise of Kaizen is small changes consistently over time create major change for the better. Do the little things well and the big ones will show up in time.
An example of Kaizen being used successfully is how my earlier waking time became established. Had one evening I set my alarm for the next morning to get up ninety minutes earlier I doubt I would have gotten up at the new time even one morning. When I began trying to establish the new time to rise and shine, I did so in 10 to 15 minute increments which I stuck to for a week or two. I went to bed a little earlier and woke a little sooner. When I felt mostly comfortable with a new time, I did the same thing again to change my habit a little more. It took over two months for my 5:30am rising time to become a comfortable new habit. Had I not approached instilling this new habit in steps, I would have quickly given up and you’d not likely be reading this blog today.
Today I am grateful for the small change of finding time to write this blog that has resulted in me now doing it every day for over half a year. In that time I have established new rising and bed times, become more social and through the associated sense of accomplishment I am more content than before. WOW! I want more of this change stuff.
When we have practiced good actions awhile they become easy;
When they are easy we take pleasure in them;
When they please us we do them frequently;
And then, by frequency of act they grow into habit.
First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your habits or they will conquer you. Rob Gilbert