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Be honest, who hasn’t done this? You make a long list of things you want to change or do better in the new year, but by month’s end, the list is usually just a memory with no real change having taken place. And you beat yourself up, thinking, if only I had more willpower or stronger motivation, I’d be able to make these changes in my life. Sound familiar?
I’ve just read a book that will blow away your preconceived ideas about that willpower and motivation and give you the tools to make lasting changes in any aspect of your life, almost mindlessly. The book is called Surprisingly…Unstuck: Rewire your brain to exercise more, eat right and truly enjoy doing so by Maria Brilaki, which you can find on Amazon.com.
Habits are deeply ingrained and difficult to change, in part because habits are things that we do without much thought and little decision-making. For example, you wake up in the morning, go to the bathroom, make coffee, go get the paper, pour a cup of coffee and sit down to read the paper. You’ve been doing it EXACTLY the same way for so many years that there is little awareness of what you’re doing. In fact, you could do it in your sleep!
Now suppose one of the items on your resolution list is to practice yoga once a day. You go to bed at night, full of good intentions about getting up in the morning and doing yoga. Come morning, you get up, start your normal routine, and before you know it, it’s 10:00 and you REALLY need to get your day started. So you vow to do the yoga after dinner. After dinner, your normal routine is to clean up after dinner, then head to the couch for some serious TV watching. After you sit down, you remember you were going to do yoga today. But you’re already nice and comfy and to do yoga, you’d have to get up, change your clothes, find your gear, put in the DVD and do the practice. You decide you’re just too tired and, instead, sit there and berate yourself for your lack of willpower and promise to do better tomorrow. So the cycle begins all over again.
In her book, Brilaki says that willpower and motivation are HARD, and I certainly agree! She teaches a process for creating new habits that takes most of the hard work out of the process, leaving willpower and motivation to be used in a more effective way.
Part of the problem is the size of the change we would like to make. Brilaki maintains that change can be made in three ways – by trying to make RADICAL change, by using SMALL steps to gradually establish new habits or by taking RIDICULOUSLY SMALL steps to train your mind to change.
Radical change is where most of us opt to start. It shows results quickly, but is the most risky by way of never getting started ( “I’m overwhelmed by what’s required” ) or by failure ( “I guess it’s too hard” ).
Using small steps is successful in some cases, but it still has elements of risk. It will take longer for changes to become habits and there are a lot of decisions that have to be made along the way.
Ridiculously small steps are the easiest and most effortless way to train your brain to change. You can also handle making several changes at the same time with this method.
Using the yoga example above, to make daily yoga practice a habit involves a lot of steps and decision-making. You need to decide when you’re going to do it, find your exercise clothing, find your yoga DVDs, find your mat, decide which program you will follow, make sure your clothing is clean, change into your clothing, turn on the DVD, do the yoga and put away your gear after practice. That’s A LOT of steps! And , when trying to make a radical change, from exercising never to exercising once a day, it’s sometimes a lot EASIER to just not do it.
Taking ridiculously small steps might involve deciding to get all the clothes and equipment ready in preparation for yoga. This might take you a few minutes or a few days, depending on your situation. Once that is done, (SUCCESS!), you might naturally decide to watch the 4 DVDs you have to figure out which program you think you will like (SUCCESS!). Then you might vow to do yoga once per week, on Thursdays, at 8:00. After that becomes a habit (SUCCESS!), the next small step you need to take will come naturally to you and progression and, ultimately, the new habit that was your goal has been formed, almost effortlessly and with little willpower or motivation needed!
Focusing on ridiculously small steps is definitely not sexy, nor will you see drastic changes quickly. But I think at it makes sense to effect lasting change in this way. I started my journey at the beginning of this blog with a LOT of big ideas about changes that I wanted or needed to make in my life. Looking at the big picture, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think “My life will never be where I’d like it to be”. I’ve certainly tried my share of radical change that hasn’t lasted and wasted many hours of putting myself down for not having enough willpower or motivation.
So, I’m off now to put together my list of ridiculously small steps that I want to start taking along the path to reinvention. The next post will cover how to harness your motivation to use what you have most effectively and triggers.
Thanks for reading!