Make a plan and choose the right time for change
Everyone sometimes thinks about changing his life: move, find a new job or give up bad habits.
But it's not so easy to make it happen. Change is scary: the path to them seems too long and exhausting. But it can be made easier - tell us how to do it.
What it means to change your life
John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, says in his book, "Rock It!" that virtually all the changes in life that people strive to make can be divided into four categories:
1. getting rid of bad habits. This can be a desire to quit smoking, stop eating fast food regularly, give up impulse buying, and more.
2. Achieving new goals. Running a marathon, earning a million, walking 10,000 steps every day or reading a book a week - all these changes have some end goal, a desired result.
3. interpersonal change. This includes all of our desires related to other people. For example, starting a family, starting a relationship, making friends, or connecting with relatives.
4. Improving the quality of life. It is worth going to this category of changes when everything in life is good in general, but some "fine-tuning" is lacking, for example, when you want to control your emotions better and worry less about nothing.
Why changing lives is so hard
It's all about our brain, and more specifically, the basal ganglia. They play an important role in establishing habits and bringing actions to automatism. One of the functions of the basal ganglia is to conserve resources, and all new and unfamiliar actions require an increased expenditure of resources.
Another reason it is so hard to change lives is uncertainty, which frightens homo sapiens even more than the negative but known consequences.
In one experiment, scientists asked volunteers to play a computer game in which they had to turn over rocks. If a snake ended up under a rock, the experiment participant received an electric shock. All this time, scientists measured the physiological indicators of the volunteers and determined their level of stress. It turned out that the most stress people felt not when they saw the snake and realized that they were going to get an electric shock, but in a moment of uncertainty - when they were just about to turn over a stone.
Behind every change in life, even the most welcome and positive one, there is still uncertainty. For example, giving up bad habits can be followed by nicotine withdrawal and exclusion from the social circle of colleagues, discussing everything interesting on a smoke break. And when trying to get in shape scares possible discomfort that will have to experience, mastering simulators under the appreciative views of regulars gym.
But all this can be overcome. Here are a few tips on how to do it.
Prepare the script
Чтобы изменение жизни не казалось таким сложным и пугающим, You can break it down into several concrete actions and think through scenarios for them. Instead of an abstract desire to "take care of your health", make a plan of what examinations to sign up for, study the websites and social networks of clinics, decide on what days you can go to a fitness club and how much money to allocate for it.
A method invented by philosopher René Descartes can also help you cope with the fear of uncertainty. "Descartes' square" allows you to outline in detail the life that awaits you if you make a particular decision, and to specify your actions. Divide the square into four parts and write a question in each:
What will happen if this happens?
What will happen if it doesn't happen?
what won't happen if it does?
What won't happen if it doesn't happen?
Answer each question in detail and honestly. Try to make your answers as specific and as close to life as possible. For example, if you're going to change jobs, don't forget about little things like a good canteen in a new office and the ability to finally stop talking to a toxic colleague. In this way, the change scenario will turn out to be realistic.
Choose the right time
It's really easier to start a new life on a Monday, or better yet, with a significant date in mind. You can choose New Year, a birthday, the first day of the month, a new moon, a marriage anniversary - any significant point of reference for you. It is known that on days when some conditional period begins, people feel an increased willingness to change. That's how the fresh start effect works.
Wharton School of Business professor Kathy Milkman writes in How to Change that the new start effect comes about because people tend to sort of divide their lives into episodes or chapters. And the beginning of a new chapter in life - even if it's just another work week - creates that very feeling of a clean slate. Such days help a person overcome the feeling that he or she has failed before, so this time nothing will work out.
But even if you enthusiastically begin to change your life "on Monday," there is a high risk that you will soon give up. Their New Year's resolutions, given under the influence of the effect of a new start, hold back only 9-12% of people.
Dr. Christine Neff, PhD, believes the reason is that along with new goals and inspiration come higher expectations of themselves. She advises not to put too much on yourself: do not try to memorize a hundred words of German or run a half-marathon on the first day.
It's better to take small steps and not berate yourself for failing. The tougher you are on yourself, the more likely you are to give up trying to change things.
Set the limits
Restrictions can be useful. For example, deadlines at work help to cope with procrastination. You can also set deadlines for life-changing steps.
Money commitments can also work as restrictions. One study involved two thousand smokers who decided to give up their addiction. One group of participants had to transfer money into a bank account for six months.
Back the entire amount could be obtained only in one case: if after the experiment tests for nicotine were negative. Of course, under the pressure of monetary obligations people quit smoking more willingly than participants in the experiment of the second group, who were not threatened with fines. If you're already desperate to fight a bad habit, you can organize a similar experiment and transfer money to a friend whom you trust.
Your obligations to someone can also be a restriction. For example, during lockdown, people were more likely to train at home if they had a commitment to a coach, even if it was only an occasional "Zoom" call or text message. Online schools and courses work the same way: when you don't just do assignments, but turn them in to a teacher, people are more diligent and less likely to drop out.
Make the change pleasant
Often we strive for big and beautiful goals, but we forget about the everyday discomfort that will have to be experienced. Going to the goal will be easier if you find the most comfortable and even enjoyable way for yourself.
Psychologists Ayelet Fischbach and Caitlin Woolley suggested that participants in the experiments eat right or exercise more. But one group could choose healthy food or exercise to their liking, while others simply got the healthiest food and effective but boring exercise.
Not surprisingly, the first group had much better results: their initial impulse to exercise lasted longer and they chose healthy foods more often.
But being too hard on yourself on the way to change only gets in the way. If you scold yourself for every pizza you eat or impulse buy, you are more likely to want to give up the big goal altogether. It is therefore important to establish indulgences in case of unforeseen situations: for example, allow yourself to not go to the gym, if the work day dragged late.
The effectiveness of such a flexible approach confirmed the experiment of American scientists. Its participants had to perform very boring tasks: time after time to enter the captcha on the site. For the achievement of the goal - 35 per day - relied on payment. All participants were divided into three groups. The first group had to work every day all week, the second group had to do it five days out of seven. The third group also had to work every day for a week, but was allowed to skip up to two days if necessary.
In the indulgence group 53% of participants achieved the goal, while in the second group 26% did the same. The group with the strictest rules, the first group, reached the goal with only 21% of participants.
Don't stop there
Sometimes life change is not as difficult as maintaining and sustaining the results. Often people roll things back just because they perceive change as a temporary chore.
Stanford Business School professors Ssu-Chi Huang and Jennifer Aaker advise treating life change not as an action with an end goal, but as a journey. Although it too must end, in the journey we pay more attention to the process than to the outcome.
The researchers proved the power of this metaphor: they asked participants in an experiment who had recently achieved some goal in work or sport to think of it as "the end of the journey." That is, their achievement was not the final, but only one of the stops on the way forward. Participants in the other group who did not use this technique were less likely to pursue their goal, such as not renewing their gym membership.
It is important not to give up on changes in the first few months, and then they will become a part of life and replace previous habits. The secret of good habits lies precisely in bringing them to automatism.
"There are people who just don't need to give up the cake in the fridge because they won't even buy it. Or they won't notice it thanks to a kind of shutter in their minds. The person sees the cake, but takes a fruit from the shelf instead because that's what they want to eat. The longer you ignore temptations, the stronger these flaps become," says psychologist Wendy Wood.