It is still January. For those who have made resolutions for better habits in 2015 and are struggling, read on.
Change is… (Original post from December 2013)
I saw a billboard the other day that read: “Change is one decision away,” and I thought to myself, “Well, duh!” But then I thought more and more about that simple sentence, and how true it was.
What particularly struck me was this: change mostly comes not from the “Big Decisions” we all face from time to time, but from the many little decisions we make every day. Do I set the alarm early so that I will have time to exercise before I have to do “x”? Do I turn my phone off before I get in my car to drive somewhere so I won’t be distracted? Do I spend half my weekend cooking healthy foods for the coming week instead of eating out or eating unhealthily? Do I hand-wash my silk blouse or do I spend the money and take it to the dry cleaners? Do I take the stairs or do I take the elevator? We must make a myriad of these small decisions every day.
So, do we have to constantly make good decisions?
Well, the answer to that is yes and no. People make decisions all the time—we just aren’t conscious of them. If we had to consciously make decisions about each action we take every day, our brains would be completely overloaded. What we do to avoid this overload is to form habits, so that conscious decision-making isn’t necessary. However, when we are trying to change habits, change is indeed “one decision away.”
A few months ago I read a fascinating book called The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, in which he discusses how to transform habits. The book opens with a true story that is a powerful attention grabber. A young woman who is an overweight, physically-inactive cigarette smoker decides she is going to give up smoking. He then describes how that single decision empowered her to change other habits. I won’t give away the ending to the vignette he shares, but imagine here that after she quits smoking she is successful at completely transforming her life. It is a remarkable illustration of the power of just one decision to produce significant change.
Duhigg, neurobiologists, and behavioral scientists would say that I am not alone in experiencing what I would describe as a cycle of success. Once I decide to change a habit and as a result experience some sort of reward, it reinforces my ability to make the same good decision the next time. Sometimes, my rewards are only ones I invent or imagine for myself. I need to do this because many habits’ effects are long term and, as a result, any change in those habits doesn’t yield an immediate tangible reward. Nonetheless, the rewards I create for myself are motivating. Some of my favorites revolve around my husband or children being proud of me, and sometimes just me being proud of me. Other times it is the prospect of some sort of indulgence – a shopping trip, or a mani-pedi, or a phone call to an old friend. As I feel successful in positively changing one area of my life, I gain confidence to tackle improvements in others. This cycle of success can grow and grow and, for some, be transformative.
I wish super-healthy eating and regular exercise were the muscle memory I revert to when I’m not actively thinking about making good decisions. But for now, every day before I exercise, I say to myself, “change is one decision away.” And then I go do it.
What habit are you going to try to change? Check out this link to “four steps to change” by Charles Duhigg  to learn more.
 Charles Duhigg, “How Habits Work,” http://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/ (accessed 12/1/13).
Latest posts by Candace Fitzpatrick (see all)
- Are We Really Struggling? - May 21, 2015
- A Mother’s Day Tribute – Just Ask the Questions You Have - May 7, 2015
- Any Ideas? - April 23, 2015