Change is difficult

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Let’s face it! Change is difficult. Research shows that the odds are nine to one against you if you want to change old habits. It further indicates that you can never truly terminate an old, bad habit you can only change it.

In his book ‘The power of Habit’ Charles Duhigg explains that habits consist of a three-step loop – the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the feeling or thought that triggers the habitual behaviour. The routine is the response to the feeling and the reward is what you craved for. In order to change a habit the cue and reward must stay the same but you change the routine. For example when you get sad (cue) you crave for comfort (reward). In order to satisfy your craving you eat a chocolate (routine). The reward you are seeking is comfort and not a satisfaction of hunger. So, when you get sad (cue) you can change your routine of eating a chocolate to phoning a friend and also feel comforted (reward) without gaining weight.

It sounds so simple but why is it so hard? Why after actively trying to change routines I stepped back into the old habit and caused suffering to those around me after knowing that it would be the outcome if I stuck to the old habit? After the incident I went to a yoga class, and as I was lying in the half-pigeon pose, the song ‘Chasing Cars of Snow Patrol’ played in the background. The phrase ‘ If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world…’ resonated with me and I found myself wishing that if I just lay there the pain would go away.

I realised that this type of behaviour is what is preventing us to change. We are all excited to change but after the first failure we feel so sorry for ourselves and return to the old habit, as it is a comfortable place – like a couch that has already taken the shape of our body – you just snugly fit into it. To get up from that couch (or yoga mat) and face change takes effort. I started to wander what would motivate me to get up from the couch and try once again to change the old habit?

After reading about change and habits I found that the following seven essential elements need to be in place in order to change habits:

  1. Awareness is necessary for change. In the book ‘Leadership Embodiment’ by Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford they indicate that you need to recognize your habits and triggers before you can choose to change it.
  2. Strong positive emotions are necessary for change. Positive thoughts alone are not enough. A study done by Dr Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins University found that 90% of people that had undergone bypass heart surgery had not changed their lifestyle two years after the operation. Even though they had been told that life-style changes could decrease pain and having another operation. This shows that knowing that your habit is not serving you in a positive way is not enough to change it. A study done by Dr Dean Ornish from the University of California that did report healthy behavioural change in 77% of their participants indicate that the ‘joy of living’ needs to be stronger than the ‘fear of dying’. Janet Crawford explains that our brain needs emotions to move into action. Taking all this into account it seems as if the reward associated with changing the behaviour needs to be associated with a strong positive feeling and image.
  3. Take mall steps. Andrea Shaw, a Master Coach with 18 years experience in coaching, indicates that small steps lead to big change. Celebrating the small victories can bring a sense of empowerment.
  4. Feelings of discomfort are normal. The brain prefers the known to the unknown. Janet Crawford writes that ‘to change our personality patterns brings into question everything that we know about ourselves and how to function with others.’ It is normal that these types of changes will bring about feelings of frustration and unease. These feelings tend to drive us back to our old habits. The trick is to acknowledge that it is normal to feel this way and to re-engage.
  5. A consistent practice is crucial for change. Research indicates that you need to practice the new routine over and over. There are different statistics on the amount of practice it takes to change. Wendy Palmer indicates in her book that a minimum of 500 practice repetitions is necessary to gain a new skill. In his book ‘The Talent Code’ Daniel Coyle reports that 10 000 hours of deep practice is necessary to obtain world-class skills. The take home message is that in order to shift behaviour it is necessary to practise your response or new routine daily over a period of time.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Now that you know it is normal to backslide, to become irritated in the process and that change takes time it is important to engage with yourself with kindness and compassion. When we become angry with ourselves for failing we engage the threat mechanisms of the brain that hindergrowth. On the journey of changing habits it is important to remain curious, be mindful and take care of our bodies.
  7. Support from community. Charles Duhigg indicates that we need to believe that we can change and that things will get better. A community of support can maintain that belief even if things get really tense and we want to fall back on old habits. It is important to share your vision of changing your habit with people who know you and care about you. So that they can support you when you fall back into the couch and need to get up again.

It’s important to note that these are just my thoughts. Studies indicate that there are not one-size-fits all when it comes to changing habits. What we do know is that a habit can be replaced. Change is difficult but it’s not impossible.

What contributions are you making?

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What is a contribution? What contributions am I making? These are questions that I’ve reflected over the past week.

Contribution can be defined in different ways depending on the context. According to the Free Dictionary it can be defined as a ‘voluntary gift made to some worthwhile cause’. I don’t know about you but I feel that the best gifts to give others are usually the ones we won’t mind receiving ourselves. I think it is the same with contributions. It is the act of giving something you value to someone else without expecting anything in return. This something can include; giving money, sharing ideas, or providing a service to someone for free. The funny thing is that when we make contributions we usually do get something unexpected in return. For example, I tend to get so excited about the gift I’m giving that just the act of giving brings me joy. In giving something I’m receiving joy.

The dictionary also defines contribution as ‘the part played by a person in bringing about a result’. The result can be to help others to enhance or reach their goals. To inspire them to believe in their unique abilities. To support others in times of difficulty. To assist in a community project or to improve the living conditions of others, etc.

When I think about the contributions that others had made to me (knowingly or unknowingly), I recall times when; someone supported me financially, told me they believed in me, held me when I was sad, and gave me advice when I needed it. Other contributions I also recall include observing a great leader, listening to beautiful music or appreciating a piece of art.

The word contribution originates from the Latin word contribuere that means to bring together, to add. In contributing we are bringing people together. We are connecting on a shared purpose level. When we contribute our unique qualities and expertise we are adding value to others. We are voluntary sharing the gifts that had been given to us.

What people made the biggest contrition in your life? In what way have you contributed to others? In the following week think about the contributions that you want to make?

It takes time and patience to create everlasting value

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A few days ago I visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History to find inspiration. I’m in the process of a career change and am mastering a new profession. I know that I’m on the right track but that does not mean that the journey is always easy. I was becoming impatient with the time it takes to change. The exhibition that amazed me was the ‘Glass Flower’ collection. It is an internationally acclaimed display of about 3 000 glass models of different plants. The flowers are made entirely of glass! It is made with extreme precision. No detail is overseen. As I was admiring the plants and flowers, I could not help but think about the enormous amount of time and patience it took to create these perfect representations.

It took Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf, nearly 50 years to create all the glass models. Professor Goodale commissioned them in 1887, as he wanted life-like representatives of plants to use in teaching Botany at Harvard. I must agree with him it is a perfect way to learn about flowers, as they are three-dimensional and always in bloom! I wished I could have observed them when I had to study Biology at school. What struck me was that these flowers, which were created more than 100 years ago, are still valuable today.

Nowadays it feels as if everything must happen quickly with as little effort possible. We want a quick return on our investment. We want to start our own company but are not willing to give it three years to become financially sustainable. We want to be the best in what we do but become impatient if we don’t improve quickly enough. We want to be valued but are not always willing to invest the time and patience needed in our relationships. We become impatient when things take time. However, learning a new profession, developing a new concept, starting a company and building relationships take time and patience. I do realise that money may play an important role as well. Money can (in certain cases) buy time. Without the financial investment of the Wares the Blaschkas would not have been able to work full time to create the glass flowers. However, they still needed the patience to perfect their craft. They had to try over and over to discover the best method to create the models.

In the end the visit to the museum provided me with the inspiration I needed to carry on with my journey. I realise that if we want to change or create something, we need to bear in mind that it takes time and patience to create everlasting value.