In the last blog post I talked about boundaries and how I started going to bed and getting up at regular hours. The funny thing is that while looking to solve my insomnia, I had read many times that going to bed at regular hours helps the body understand when it’s supposed to sleep. And of course I ignored this advice as many times as I read it.
Why is it so hard to change? We all know about the things that would improve our lives, so why don’t we just do them? It’s because humans aren’t rational. If all it took to make high-impact life changes were a rational decision, we could just explain to everyone the consequences of unhealthy behavior (which governments have tried for years) and wipe out chronic disease by tomorrow.
The problem is that the benefits of positive life changes often remain intangible. You have to content yourself with the fact that you will be able to cash in on them not today but some time in the distant future. The payoff remains theoretical until you actually experience it.
On the other hand there are benefits we can enjoy immediately. That burger in our hands, the plate of fries that comes with it, the ice cream in the fridge. Instant gratification here we come. Short term benefits often outweigh our long-term goals, as everyone who has ever tried to change their eating habits can attest.
Plans with benefits
So part of the art of behavioral change is to make the intangible tangible. Long-term goals are important and I’m all for them but frustration often happens in the short run, in the moment. We crave for a graspable payoff to continue on our path, an understanding on the gut level as to why we do what we do. In short, we want a reward.
Rewards are how we make ourselves feel and realize that we accomplished something, they make us appreciate our victory. If you don’t reward yourself, at some point your body and/or your mind is going to say “F*ck this sh*t!” and will want to throw in the towel. If you are aware of this, it can be leveraged to make habit changes more likely and more fun.
If you work with rewards, you can take little bets with yourself. That’s what I did in order to get myself to adhere to a set schedule. If I was at my desk and ready to work by 9am, I would get to buy lunch from one of the places around my office (much love to Sabzi at this point). No guilt about spending money, no restrictions. If I was late I would make myself eat lunch from the supermarket.
Here’s when I arrived at work during last week:
- Monday: 9am
- Tuesday: 8:45am
- Wednesday: 8:30am
- Thursday: 8:50am
- Friday: 8:45am
Number of times I ate lunch from the supermarket: 0
I am still on the same schedule and I am actually thinking of slowly moving my waking hour to a little earlier to have more time in the morning.
Pamper yourself into improving your life
This principle can easily be adapted to any sort of life change. Merely pick a desired behavior, pick a reward and a condition under which you are eligible to receive it. As always, it’s important to be specific and realistic about both the desired change and the reward. “Eat better” and “buy something nice” is not going to work since you have no idea what either means, neither is “run a marathon” and “buy Mercedes” when you are out of shape and broke.
Ideas for behavioral change:
do ten push-ups during lunch break at work
call two potential clients per day, first thing in the morning
learn 10 new words in a new language every night
eat a salad before every dinner
jog for 30 minutes twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm)
take a ten minute walk before work
send out one job application per day
Ideas for rewards:
eating out at your favorite restaurant
one episode of a TV series you love
going to a movie
getting a massage
date night with your squeeze
new workout equipment
The application to your life is only limited by your imagination. And remember, rewards taste a lot better after actually doing the deed.
What would you like to change? Which small step could you take every day and which reward could you use to motivate yourself? Be specific and tell me about it in the comments (then go and do it and tell us all over again).
image source: flickr