Disclaimer: I am NOT one of those people who abhors New Years Resolutions. I love them. What’s not to like or love about using the new year, fresh off of holiday goodies and the end of one year and the start of another to resolve to make positive change(s)?
I know I’m a little weird this way, but I love change — if it’s positive. And, the harder the change, the better, as far as I’m concerned. I like the challenge it provides and the fulfillment that follows if I’ve remained committed to it — not to mention the benefits realized in my life as a result of making the change.
I read Switch, by brothers Dan and Chip Heath some months ago. It is an amazing book. Its subtitle is Making Change When Change is Hard. Yes, for me, this book resonates.
Among the most common — and important, I might add — resolutions people make for the new year are related to weight and fitness. To lose weight and to get more exercise. Both of these things not only will help prevent many illnesses, extend our lives and possibly even save our lives, but will also add vitality and energy to our lives. Who among us doesn’t want more vitality and energy? The other important benefits of being at our ideal weights with improved fitness are — let’s not hide these important realities — is that we will look better and be more confident.
Some of you may have been following my “fitness journey” blogging. I am 5′ 4″ tall. In March 2009, I weighed 158 pounds. I was soft and for a few years had gotten lazy. Sedentary by most people’s standards. Today, I weigh 132. I’ve lost 14% body fat and 26 pounds. I dropped three pant sizes. I started wearing a swim suit and joining my husband and three sons in the pool. I started tucking my blouses in. I became able to romp on the floor with three young, rambunctious sons.
But as important as these things is this fact: Everything in my life — every single thing — is better as a result of my improved health. The latter is not to be underestimated and should be a motivator for anyone to lose some weight and get moving.
One of the most important sections in Switch is about self-supervision. Things that we do that require self-supervision are often the hardest things we do because they require the most effort. Self-supervision means self control.
Many of the things we do in our daily lives are automatic and don’t require much self-supervision or self control. Examples are brushing your teeth, driving home from work along the same route for the 200th time, taking a shower, etc.
On the other hand, self-supervised tasks are those that require deliberate thought and action. Examples of this that the Heaths provide in their book are learning a new dance, or organizing a book shelf or giving an employee evaluation. You can’t just cruise through these things without careful thought, consideration and effort. This self-supervised work is hard, and according to the Heaths, can be downright draining.
So far, you probably find none of this too surprising.
But this is where it gets fascinating. We don’t have an unlimited supply of self control/self-supervision. True, some of us have a bigger supply than others and probably, depending on the time in our life, at times we may have a greater supply than other times. For example, in the first four years of operating our business, I’m sure my supply of self control was high, but that it still was often not enough, given the challenges and efforts and emotional and financial investment involved. Contrast that with my life currently, and I have a big supply still, but I often get through a day with excess to spare. Not every day, but often, and when it happens it’s a great feeling.
The Heaths explain it much better than I can:
Psychologists have discovered that self control is an exhaustible resource. It’s like doing bench presses at the gym. The first one is easy, when your muscles are fresh. But with each additional repetition, your muscles get more exhausted, until you can’t lift the bar again.
Here’s further explanation by the Heaths:
In one study, some people were asked to restrain their emotions while watching a sad movie about sick animals. Afterward, they exhibited less physical endurance than others who’d let their tears flow freely. The research shows that we burn up self control in a wide variety of situations: managing the impression we’re making on others; coping with fears; controlling our spending; trying to focus on simple instructions…
This is all important information to consider with respect to making a change, or changes. The Heaths write — and I can’t agree with this more as it’s definitely been the case in my personal experience — that when we try to change things it often means tinkering with behaviors that have come automatic. So making the change is a big deal. It requires supervision. Self-supervision. Self control.
And this is a bummer. Because when people exhaust their self control in an effort to make change, what they’re exhausting are their mental muscles needed in order to focus and think creatively, to persist in the face of frustration or failure, explain the Heath brothers.
It’s likely that our tendency is often to pass judgment on people who fail at making change or who have a hard time making change. We think of them as lazy or resistant. The Heaths say to do this is flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out… What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
Speaking of exhaustion, you’re probably getting exhausted from reading this long post. Sorry about that. Like I warned in the beginning, I love change, so I love talking and sharing about it. So I’ll start to wrap it up here, my friends, in hopes you’ll come back for more. 🙂
In my personal experience, here’s what I’ve found to be a most helpful tool in making change in my own life: Cement elements of the change(s) you’re making into routine and make them mandatory, not optional. Do this all ahead of time, before you start. And, speaking of starting, I also commit to a starting date for affecting a particular change.
By doing the aforementioned two things, I preserve that limited amount of self control that I have — that we all have — by “pre-loading” decisions ahead of time and committing to them. In other words, these are not optional. These are not simply decisions that can be reconsidered or changed at a later date.
For example, in March 2009 when I finally committed to losing weight and getting healthier, I determined ahead of time the following tasks: that I’m going to work out at 4:30 am at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, that I’m going to eat vegetables with every meal every day, that I’m going to not eat any snacks after 7 p.m., that our family is going to have a sit-down dinner at least four evenings during the school/work week, that I’m not going to eat pasta, pizza, bread or pastries for six months, and so on.
By making these decisions ahead of time, I’ve removed the decision-making tasks that can deplete that can of self control I start out with every day pretty quickly. In other words, I’m not making these decisions … they’ve already been made. There’s no supervision required and the need for self control has been largely reduced. This is not to say it’s easy, but rather to suggest that some of the heavy lifting which would otherwise require self-supervision and therefore deplete your limited supply of self control, has already been done. (By the way, I took a full court press approach to my losing weight because I’m impatient and wanted quicker-than-average results. A person doesn’t have to make so many changes at once like I did to realize positive results.)
I can tell you it makes a tremendous difference when you script such rules and commit to them, ahead of time.
As usual, thanks for reading. I would love to hear any tips you have in how you’ve been able to affect positive change. I’m sure they could inspire and help others during this time of resolving to make change in 2011.
Happy new year!
By the way, I’m studying with Coaches Training Institute to become a certified life coach. One of my biggest hopes/goals is to help motivate people to self-motivate to make positive change in their own lives. I look forward to the challenge of helping people make big change and to witnessing their fulfillment as a result. I continue to work on making changes in my life, as well.
Some of the posts I’ve shared during my life coaching learnings thus far are:
I Want to Be a Life Coach, Part 1
I Am Here. But I’m Not. Not Really.
Lost in the Middle of Somewhere
An Inquiry: What Does Hard Work Get Me?
Are You Deciding or Are You Committing?