The last chapter of Jeffrey Kottler’s book, “Change”, was one of the ones I was most looking forward to reading — “Why Changes Don’t Often Last”. The sobering statistics are quite common in pop psych — the huge numbers of people who set New Year’s resolutions but abandon them before the first week is out (often from trying for perfection in “Just Do It” mode rather than incremental chain-growth like the Seinfeld method mentioned earlier), and that 80% of those who join gyms stop going after the first few visits even though they keep paying for membership for much longer (the illusion of still being committed that would be shattered by formally quitting their membership).
Oddly enough, I was quite surprised at the beginning of the chapter that those who study change don’t have a firm grasp of why it fails. First and foremost, those who are heavy at work in the change industry — like therapists or weightloss consultants — don’t know what happens after the patient reaches a goal. There is the pop psych results, such as the fact that almost all of the contestants on the weightloss show “The Biggest Loser” end up gaining all the weight back later. But there is no ongoing follow-up in most clinical or therapeutic settings. And thus no info on if the patient/client relapsed or slipped. Secondly, change is often not a “point in time” measurement but a journey, and thus is quite complex and difficult to measure quantitatively, particularly for a moving target. Thirdly, the results are demoralizing — huge numbers of relapses. So studying it isn’t very satisfying or helpful to clinical treatments.
Nevertheless, Kottler does have a rudimentary list in the headings of why change doesn’t last:
- Limits of will…good intentions are not enough, and we don’t always have full control over our lives;
- Unrealistic expectations or lousy goal-setting;
- Dysfunctional beliefs…including defeatist attitudes, and, perhaps more importantly reasons NOT to change and stay stuck:
- You feel justified in self-pity;
- You can blame external factors or others for your problems;
- You have an excuse not to do it;
- You get sympathy;
- No reward but no risk of change;
- You can avoid addressing deeper issues;
- You can be a jerk and blame your condition;
Put a little differently, “you can remain miserable on your own terms” [pg. 305]. It’s heavily about control of what is familiar vs. risking loss of control with trying something new. In other words, flat out fear.
But you also may lack support (or have others who are enabling triggers for your old behaviour — there’s a reason why alcoholics and drug addicts are actively encouraged NOT to hang around their old friends and family members who may have not only introduced them to their addiction but also actively enabled it…it’s hard to leave port for a better world if you’re still weighed down by an anchor that ties you to your old habits); suffer from other traits or moods that are not conducive to the change (and might need addressing too); or have poor coping skills / preparation (or even just lack the knowledge of how to implement a change).
However, all of the previous chapters came down to pages 308 to 315 for me. I wanted to make one very large change in my life — lose weight — and I was stuck. So I was looking for an enhanced understanding of why I was stuck and how to overcome it. These 8 pages helped me craft a kind of “to do” list.
Success depends on:
- Conducting a fearless inventory of the costs, benefits, patterns and triggers of your “issue” (to make all the pieces clear to you, both in pulling you forward and in resisting change);
- Finding the right motivation (to allow you to commit in the first place);
- Substituting better or different habits to replace the previous ones (even if just to use the time differently);
- Building in consistent rewards (to gamify the journey);
- Committing wholeheartedly (to carry you through); and,
- Changing the narrative of your journey (to reinforce the change and oppose relapses).
The book, and this list, gave me a way forward. I’ve handled 3 of the 6, and I’m working on the remaining 3. Onward to the journey! (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 1, the decision).