Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Who Said That Change Was Easy?

  • Why can’t I just stay on a diet?
  • Why does he go back to those cigarettes?
  • Why don’t we just build that porch if we want it?

You may have wondered, even despaired, about you and your partner’s inability to change certain things that you really want to change.  After all, if you really want it, why can’t you Just Do It?

Maybe you can’t change for reasons that neither you nor your partner have considered.

In their very interesting book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath draw upon research and challenging situations to identify factors that make change difficult and guidelines that make change possible. Underscoring all that they offer is the validation that change is not easy!

Considering some of the reasons that make change difficult might invite you and your partner to think about new steps toward change.

Self Control is an Exhaustible Resource

If you or your partner has ever said that you can’t diet, stop smoking, look for a new job, or enroll at the gym during tax season, while the kids are visiting or grandma is in rehab  – you are both probably right.  For change to take place there has to be sustained focus which demands self-control and self control saps physical, cognitive and emotional energy.

  • In one research study the group allowed to eat displayed chocolate chip cookies as compared to the group that had to restrain themselves from eating the cookies was able to persist at working on an unsolvable geometric tracing task significantly longer than the group that had to use self-control.
  • In another study, people asked to restrain their emotions while watching a sad movie, actually exhibited less physical endurance than others allowed to cry.

According to Craig and Dan Heath, the belief that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant is simply not true. Change is hard because people are often worn out. They often don’t realize that they need reserves of self-control and self-focus for change.

Lack of Clarity

A real stumbling block to change is ambiguity and lack of clarity. People become overwhelmed by too much information. You won’t lose 10 pounds this summer by reading a diet book.  Most people have their own collection of diet books. According to Heath and Heath, the best plans are simple. They draw upon a “bright star” in your own history (something that worked before), a few clear steps and a time frame. Clear and simple plans demand less concentration.

For example, realizing that she lost weight on a trip where she couldn’t find her usual beverages, one woman came up with a simple diet plan. For a month, she substituted her usual caloric beverages (chocolate milk, lattes, and fruit juices) with herbal teas and water and dropped the 10 pounds that motivated her to start walking.

Compounding Considerations

Some couples are so good at research that they research themselves right out of change.  They over-think. They consider so many details and possibilities that they can’t decide on the car model or the style of deck they want to build. Stressed by the research, the options, fear of mistakes, money and the arguments that result – they retreat to the relief of the old car and the chairs on the lawn.

Essentially, the more options available – the more paralysis in the decision making process. In an interesting consumer study, a store display offering samples of six new types of jam resulted in 10 times more sales than a sample display offering 24 new types of jam.

Divide and Conquer

As a way to avoid the option overload, some couples “simplify” by assigning the “leg work” to the one most involved or knowledgeable about the plan or purchase. She picks out three possible cars. He identifies the two types of decks. The partner is brought it for the final round and the deal!

The Best Laid Plans Need Motivation

No matter how well planned, no change occurs without motivation.  The goal of change has to be driven by feelings that over-ride fatigue, lack of restraint, and even fear of success.

No matter what —most brides lose the pounds they want for that wedding dress!

  • Heath and Heath suggest that you can build on motivation by  creating a “ destination postcard“ in your mind or literally on the wall of what you want to see change.
  • Motivation is fueled by seeing results. It can often be maintained by “shrinking the change” to a lesser goal that captures the feeling of movement and success (no alcohol on the weekdays).
  • Motivation is contagious. People often get and hold the feeling when they participate in a joint goal. As a couple you have the benefit of wanting to accomplish something together – of not letting the other one down.
  • Some folks tie motivation for change to a higher goal.  Thousands have put on walking and running shoes for the first time to train so they could “Walk for the Cure” or “Run for Life.”

Environmental Impacts

According to Heath and Heath, no matter how much people thought they ate of the free bucket of stale popcorn they were given at a movie showing , when the bucket was larger – THEY ATE MORE.

Your environment – from access to a safe place to walk to what’s in the refrigerator – plays a part in helping or hindering your change. Knowing this can become a key to making change easier.

If environmental changes like setting your phone or IPod to motivating music for a “non-smoking” 5 minute office break or having friends knock at the door for the morning walk allow you  to resist less, so you will have extra physical and emotional endurance to do more.

Partners usually share environments and as such can play a major role in what Heath and Heath term  “shaping the path” for change.

If in your own way you can juggle a schedule to make your partner’s plan work, stay out of the way if needed, join in the effort if wanted, notice the shifts, applaud the approximations, accept the snags or just keep up the belief in change – you will make the path easier and more possible.