Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How do you know you want to change?

Maintenance is hard work. Whether you are looking after your waistline or your car, maintenance means looking after something that is not breaking and is not making any claims on your attention in the belief that paying attention now will cost less than paying attention later. It takes effort to keep things the same.

At any given moment, if you are not taking action to preserve something, you are allowing it to change. Some of that change will be so slow that it is undetectable - like the wear and tear of the wind on your house. Unless there's a huge storm, you won't notice that the wind has any impact at all. But the wind has an impact.

So the choice we make is really between exerting effort to change or allowing change to happen - a choice between directing change and letting change direct us. Staying the same is not really an option.

The new psychologies of choice are suggesting that making a decision to change is probably harder than whatever change we decide to make. The hardest kind of decision requires that we choose among many options.

Imagine you are sure that you want to lose weight. Are you sure enough to withstand the pressure of having to choose between many, many possibilities for how to choose what you eat, how you exercise, and how you maintain your psyche during the process of losing weight? Barry Schwartz, Dan Gilbert and Dan Ariely (you can find them all at www.ted.com) are among the many researchers who report that having to choose is possibly more difficult than changing what you do to lose weight.

Even if you know that the option is to stay at an uncomfortable weight until it changes 'naturally' (usually it goes up, not down), that option can seem less painful than making the choice to change.

But just thinking about this, also allows you to see the problem differently. Suddenly it is not about whether or not you can lose weight - it's about whether or not you can summon the congruence to make the choice and (this is another tricky part) allow that choice to play out without second guessing yourself continually.

If you were removed to a remote location where someone else controlled what food was available and gave you a schedule for exercise, however convoluted, you would make the change with less angst and settle into it more reliably. You would find that losing weight felt good (unless you are already much slimmer than most North Americans), you would be stronger and more able to move, and you would have someone else to blame for any discomfort caused by the process. It sounds good, doesn't it?

The leverage point for change is the decision. The logistics, the support, the feedback - all are important but the leverage point is making a decision.

And - if you've made a decision, the reverse is true. You are through the hardest part. Once you accept the limitations you have chosen (all decisions limit our possibilities), you can let go of the effort it takes to decide and turn all that attention and emotional energy to the much simpler task of carrying out the decision you made.

You know you want to change when you know you have decided to make a change. Deciding is hard. Change is easier.

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