Why Is It so Difficult to Change Our Habits?
Caution: constant self-improvement or lifelong learning, no matter how you chose to call it, allows us to achieve higher levels of excellence.
From the beginning of time, or at least since man has learned to pass knowledge from one generation to the next, we’ve longed to improve upon ourselves. The idea being to continually evolve on a personal level and as a species.
Life is little like learning a new sport, with practice and technique improvement, we hone our talents as we go. Through better habits, improved state of mind and refined methods we improve in every aspect of our lives.
In October of 2016, author, Shane Parrish published an interesting article in his newsletter, Brain Food.
According to him, the problem with self-improvement methods, including the multidisciplinary methods which he defends, is that they are a trap. They are just an illusion for the simple reason that people don’t put them into practice.
Why then are these ideas of self-improvement considered just an illusion? If you think about it, most schemes offering amazing results with little effort found in magazines or on blogs follow a basic formula. Lose weight without hassle, quit smoking without difficulty, get rich without really trying, improve your physical state in just 15 minutes or get abs of steel in just under two weeks are all excellent examples of how we want to improve but because we find it difficult to change our habits, we don’t want to put in the work.
This is the problem. For each change we make in our lives, we must remind ourselves that there might be difficulties, we may look silly and in some cases it might hurt.
A great example would be finally deciding to go to the gym. You sign up, prepare a program and get motivated to make some really good changes. You go once and enjoy yourself but the next day you’re in pain. You wake up and your body aches all over – you didn’t sign up for this. You wanted to have fun, improve your shape and tone your body not spend the day suffering. What your body tells you is that this is too difficult, it will be much easier to sit around drinking wine with friends.
Sometimes it takes greater motivation to make a significant change in our lives. Hurting after a day at the gym may be enough to dissuade us from continuing but if we were to witness someone going into cardiac arrest, we may be motivated to work through the pain the day after the gym. Suddenly muscle aches won’t slow us down. The thought of having to go through a cardiac arrest ourselves would be enough to not only stick with the gym but also begin seeing ourselves in a better light.
In this case, the how we change isn’t as important as the why we change. It’s the motivation that fuels our desire to become better.
To introduce change in our lives, we have to fully understand why we want this change. From there we can begin to develop good habits.
Excerpts from the book, The 7 Waves of Success
When a change in identity occurs, it’s often because the person feels that his or her behavior is not appropriate in a given context. A host of reasons can explain this feeling of inadequacy: fluctuating external demands, remarkable or unexpected events, desires and sudden changes in what we need or want. This changes can be minor and almost invisible when they occur but they could still be the trigger for major change in one’s life. This is why it’s very important to ask ourselves regularly, who am I?
The responsibility of our choices and the shaping of our identity rests entirely in our hands. Often we try to make a change in our lives but it doesn’t stick. This is because changing our nature has to happen over time. We have to take the time to get to know ourselves honestly if we are going to make a change according to our identity.
To change a behavior that seems usual and almost innate, we must practice, practice and practice again. Some people have succeeded in creating small changes that have in turn yielded great success. Amateur runners are a great example of this. They begin by running 200 meters and then walking 200 meters before eventually running an entire kilometer. With time they are able to increase their output by going a little further with each run. A five kilometer run becomes ten and then a half marathon. Before they know it, they are running a marathon and succeeding in their goals.
At the moment I wrote this text, I had just finished my 14th marathon. I was 42 years old when I completed my first marathon. At 36 years old I couldn’t run 200 feet without losing my breath. Several people around me have succeeded in quitting smoking or losing weight without having it return. Change can happen. It takes persistence, patience and little changes repeated on a daily basis for great success to become reality.
Saving money is another great example of how small changes can lead to big rewards. Five dollars saved every day becomes $35 a week. At the end of the year this adds up to $1,820 in savings. This could pay for my next trip or I can put it away in a retirement fund. If I started saving like this at 25 years old, I would have $131, 724 by the time I reach 55. Adding 5% interest every year I would add $75, 304. Small savings can lead to big rewards.
Aristotle said: “We are what we repeat every day. Excellence is no longer an act but a habit”.
What we are is a reflection of our values. When our values are questioned or our environment goes against what we believe, and we choose to accept this situation, we end up living in frustration. This frustration leads to demotivation and if it persists can affect our self-esteem. We could end up in a negative spiral that leads to darkness and a loss of hope. On the other hand, when we operate in an environment that is in keeping with our values, motivation and self-confidence take over. The knowledge of oneself and one’s values is therefore essential to our fulfillment. Revaluating ourselves occasionally keeps us in check with who we really are.
Changing a habit requires a certain commitment but knowing why you want to change is paramount. When the reason why you want to change is clear to you, you won’t feel the pain or the aches. Your goal will motivate you and you will succeed where others fail.