3 Steps for Initiating Any Difficult Change - THINKERS Notebook

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3 Steps for Initiating Any Difficult Change

Like the majority of Americans over the past year, I've gained weight during the pandemic.

I recognized it as it was happening, but felt very little motivation to stop it in its tracks.

I could blame this weight gain on poor habits brought about by the lifestyle changes of the pandemic, the stress of moving, or the upheaval of a new baby ... but the truth is that I'm not really sure what the main causes have been. It's surely a mix of the above factors plus a bunch of more subtle psychological ones I don't even recognize.

But the weight gain I've recognized. Old clothes don't lie.

So over the last few months, I've spent a lot of time thinking about making some changes and returning to healthier habits. I've been there before, so it seemed fairly easy to get there again.

It's been a struggle though. 

Sugar, carbs, late-night snacking, too much food delivery ... it all seemed to be conspiring against the better wellness angels of my nature. I could visualize the choices I wanted to make, but then would keep making the wrong ones. 

Until this week.

I finally broke through.

And while one five-day stretch of drastically better eating choices is not enough to qualify as a complete lifestyle 180, it's been exactly the sharp turn I've needed to get myself moving down a healthier track.

So what changed? Three things, all of which can be useful no matter what kind of important change you're trying to make:

1. I finally admitted to myself I needed help.

After spending many months telling myself (and others) "I got this," I came to the scary conclusion that maybe I didn't actually have my food choices under control.

If I did, why wouldn't I have made the changes I'd been thinking so much about?

So I took a small but profound step: I sought out some help.

While preparing to take my son for a stroller walk, I opened up my podcast app and did a search for "cut back on sugar." This podcast episode came up.

I'd never heard of the host (Brian Mowll) or the guest (Lisa Lewtan), but I figured I should ride the fleeting wave of humbled motivation while it was present, so I listened with a fully open mind.

That led to #2 ...

2. I regained a perspective of empowerment.

After spending a few weeks really lamenting my inability to alter my course, I had started to really worry about my inability to change.

Was I entering a new phase of life? Was this feeling of powerlessness the new normal?

Listening to what Lisa said on the podcast snapped me back to reality. 

Of course I could change. 

As with so many big changes that seem overwhelming and daunting, the path begins with a single, small step ... which begets another step ... which begets another step.

I hadn't fallen down some endless mental tunnel from which there was no return. I'd simply lost the forest for the trees.

My mind had twisted itself into a pretzel worrying about how I'd stay committed to a change two months from now that I'd forgotten about the power of the choice directly in front of me.

I emerged from that listening experience primed to approach thinking about change in a new way.

But there was still one thing missing ...

3. I put some skin in the game.

By that point, I had learned not to simply trust my own motivation for change during a moment of clarity. That kind of hubris is what had gotten me into this situation in the first place.

Effective habit change doesn't come from a simple moment of clarity. If it did, change would be easy.

Instead, change is given the chance to begin and endure through the thoughtful development of lifestyle scaffolding that supports the change on an ongoing basis.

I decided that the first piece of lifestyle scaffolding I would set up to support my desire to change was purchasing the "Spring Reboot" program Lisa offered on her website.

I knew that if I spent $170 for a 10-day program, I'd take it seriously. The money would give me skin in the game, so to speak. My desire to avoid wasting the investment would add an important layer of motivation.

I also knew that the accountability part of the program would be helpful. A group Zoom each day, plus the presence of accountability partners, would help keep me on the straight and narrow path of making those small, positive choices over and over in the beginning -- the only way to create momentum that matters.

So far, it has.

It's only been five days, but I've stuck with my simple plan of avoiding flour, eating nothing with added sugar, and only eating between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. each day.

And I already feel major differences physically, mentally, and emotionally -- in just five days.

Most notably, the cravings that I'd started to feel powerless too are almost completely gone. When they crop up, I have my lifestyle scaffolding to help me stick with my plan.

I feel good. I've gotten the healthy jolt to my system I've been wanting for so long.

So now everything is all better forever!?!?!?

No, of course not.

I'm not even through the 10-day reboot! This is the easy part.

The key will be continuing to build and rebuild the lifestyle scaffolding that will guide my choices in my soon-to-be less structured future.

But I had to start somewhere. I needed the jolt. And this last week has given it to me.

As the old saying goes, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single stride."

For a while there, I couldn't even put one foot in front of the other. Now I feel more genuinely enthusiastic about the journey back home to healthier habits with each successive step.

So I ask you:

What change have you been wanting to make but unable to even start?

I may not have the specific strategies you need to take your first crucial steps, but I do think the three-step process I stumbled back into this week can help put you in the proper mindset for initiating real change.

  1. Admit to yourself you need some help.
  2. Regain a perspective of empowerment.
  3. Put some skin in the game.

And in this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find one article about the power of each step on the path toward lasting change.

The most difficult step is often the first one.

"Another study found that patients suffered “an average of 10.5 years before thinking that psychotherapy could help them, and participants said: the most difficult step towards starting treatment was deciding that psychotherapy might be beneficial."

Read: Why It's Hard to Admit We Need Help (BrainLine)

You may need to be patient while building your sense of empowerment.

"The process of empowerment is not a linear drive toward stronger internal feelings of efficacy, but rather a dynamic process in which we acquire knowledge, take action, assess our impact and refine our efforts. It is best to build slowly by pursuing simpler complaints before tackling more meaningful dissatisfactions. Each small complaint we resolve along the way will create another building block upon which we can build a stable and lasting sense of personal empowerment, self-esteem and self-efficacy."

Read: How to Attain Real Personal Empowerment (Pyschology Today)

Use your human psychology to your advantage.

"Studies show that we're likely to value something we pay for more than we do that same something we receive for free. Ciadini's Influence: Science and Practice explores this psychological phenomenon in depth, but in short, we're more likely to take our online courses and MOOCs seriously if we have skin in the game.

Human minds are also susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy. We're likely to pour time, effort, and money into a course we've already spent time, effort, and money on until we extract enough value from it. While we'd normally want to catch ourselves before we fall prey to this fallacy, here we can use it to our advantage."

Read: Should You Pay for MOOCs and Online Courses? (Open Courser)

Quote of the week

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

-- James Baldwin