Changing practice by practicing change

New Year’s resolutions.  Diets.  Vows to arrive earlier to work.  Promises to keep calm while in traffic jams.  All worthwhile attempts at change that often fail.

Why?

“Change is hard,” right?  Maybe.  We try changing so rarely, so why should we be any good at it?  Same schedule most days.  Same people we work with.  Same friends, same families, same food we eat.

It’s reassuring and productive to have a whole lot of habits.  But we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we only attempt change when it’s something BIG: “I’m going to stop eating carbs.”  “I’m going to get up at 6am every day and exercise.”  “I’m going to become a great public speaker.”

Great if you can pull these things off.  If it’s not happening, maybe you can make space for practicing.  Practicing change, that is.  Trying to change small, low-stakes things, and watching what happens along the way.

Here’s an idea: try brushing your teeth with your other hand for a month.  It’s meaningless, it’s easy, it’s low stakes, and there’s no good reason you can’t pull it off.

Why bother?  Because if you can do this for a month you might have more faith that you can change something more important.  And if you fail (which you might), you’ll have a chance to watch when and why your attempts at change fall apart.  Are you initially enthusiastic but then lose interest?  Do you convince yourself it’s too hard?   Do you just forget?  Pulling this silly little thing off is your way to learn how to change – which makes it important and worth the follow-through.

(If you don’t like the idea of brushing your teeth with your left hand, here are some other ideas, all for a month: Arrive 5 minutes early for every meeting.  Never complain.  Answer enthusiastically when anyone asks you “how are you doing?”  Look everyone in the eye when you talk to them.  Sit quietly with your eyes closed for 5 minutes a day.  Go to bed by 10 pm.  Floss daily.)

Have fun with it.  Keep a log of how it’s going.  You never know what you might be good at if you practice.

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4 Responses to Changing practice by practicing change

  1. Vinay says:

    Great blog as always, Sasha.

    I would, however, like to add one particular comment to it.

    A lot gets made of the psychological desire required to successfully effect change; that is, just how much do you want it? Will you run through a proverbial brick wall to get it? (A bit like your Federer vs Roddick blog a while back.)

    But moreover, what I actually think lets us down more often is putting in the adequate *physical* work necessary in order to succeed. By this I don’t mean actual pure physical exertion; rather, I refer to PUTTING THE HOURS IN towards achieving your goal/change.

    For example, if you are learning a new language, are you genuinely doing the required work in-between classes, to immerse yourself into that new language? Or, if you are training for a race, are you putting the hard miles in week in- week out (after all, you can’t cheat your legs). And so on.

    One cannot just assume that change will happen through sheer willpower. I believe that it is the hard work, the graft, that needs to happen first … only then will we have a chance at winning the (crucial) psychological battle. So you need to ask yourself: am I really doing all the requisite hard word so that I can achieve the change I desire? (“Or am I cheating my legs?!”)

    For any Obama-philes out there, some words from the great man to reflect upon when you are feeling a bit lazy, or finding it hard to get up and put those hours in:
    “There is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

    All the best.

  2. Sasha says:

    Vinay, couldn’t agree more. Thanks for your comment.

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