There’s an old saying that says, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Every year, people make New Year’s Resolutions that are doomed to fail. Maybe you’re fed up with a bad habit, and swear that this time, you really are going to give it up. And you mean it. And you fully intend to follow through. But results elude you. Why is it that we have such a hard time making changes, even when we truly do want to change? Here’s why.
It’s because of “homeostasis,” the idea that systems tend to want to stay the same. For example, your body has processes for maintaining a temperature of about 98.6 degrees. If it gets too high, those processes cool you down. If it gets too low, a different set of processes heat you up. We naturally encounter some resistance when we try to make changes because of homeostasis. There will nearly always be thoughts, feelings, people or circumstances that arise that influence us to maintain the status quo. Finance guru Dave Ramsey said, “People will not change until the pain of where they are exceeds the pain of change.” I believe that people will often go far beyond that point before they actually change something, because we value what is known so much more than what is unknown, and change is clearly unknown. Change often feels less secure, and security is one of our most basic needs. One of the toughest parts of change is that homeostasis cares about maintaining the status quo, not about what’s good for us. Sometimes, maintaining the norm is good, like in body temperature. But sometimes, maintaining the status quo is unhealthy, like drinking too much or not communicating enough with your spouse. So how do we overcome homeostasis and make the changes we really want to make?
•Develop compassionate tenacity, meaning you grab on to something and don’t let go. Change requires persistence, and once you have your goal in mind, you need resolve if you want to persevere through setbacks.
I say “compassionate” tenacity because change usually has a bit of a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern to it. When we have a “one step back” moment, giving ourselves compassion and the benefit of the doubt can help us continue to pursue the goal.
•You also need accountability: Tell someone you’re working on something, or better yet, work on it together. We become much more likely to accomplish a task if we know that we will be discussing it with someone else. This isn’t to say that your motivation should be to satisfy other people. It’s just being realistic. Whenever I set a goal to exercise more, I always do better if I have someone I go with, for example.
•Stick to a plan. If you write down your plan to accomplish your goal, and the steps you are going to take to get there, you are more likely to succeed.
•Seize the day. Each of us only gets so many tomorrows. Sometimes we may feel like making a change right now, and we say to ourselves, “That’s a great idea, I’ll get started on that tomorrow.” If you’re fortunate to actually feel like making a change, you’re much more likely to follow through if you start in that moment when you feel like it. Motivation is elusive, and if you have it now, take advantage of the moment.
Andy Thompson writes a monthly column for The Globe-Times.