“Change is hard because people wear themselves out. And that’s the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” Chip Heath[i]
When it comes to adopting new habits, the best advice is to always start small. Avoid the BIG Mistake most people make – that is starting BIG. Big change triggers big resistance. In a phenomenon called subjective fatigue, our mind looks ahead, estimates the work, and becomes exhausted. It is the reason so many people never get started, or if they do, they quit after a few weeks. Start small, establish the habit, then build on it. Very few people can power through the initiation phase, beginning with a big commitment – using sheer determination. In this scenario, the Rider is trying to overcome the two-ton Elephant resistance through brute force. Unless you are exceptionally motivated or have a vast resource of willpower to pull from, you will eventually fail.
You’ll blame your lack of motivation and willpower when you should be blaming your ineffective strategy. We want an approach that is effective for everyone. Even if you are exceptionally motivated or are a titan of willpower, shrinking the initial commitment won’t prevent you from doing more. It is a floor, not a ceiling. You can always do more when your motivation or willpower is high. Sure, if you are atypically driven, you could have been successful starting out with a huge commitment, but, by definition, most of us are not atypical. Motivation is wonderful. Motivational speeches can get us fired-up, but the motivation they provide isn’t a sustainable basis for action.
I am not against motivation. The more motivated we are, the less willpower we’ll need. I want you to avoid the mistake of relying on motivation to act. Motivation is like a bonus check, it’s great when you get one, but you shouldn’t rely on it to pay your bills. To show you that I don’t have anything against motivation, let me tell you how I start virtually every morning. I begin each day listening to something positive, an uplifting song, a motivational speech, or an inspirational audiobook because it helps to set a positive tone for my day. How do you think I heard about Jim Rohn, Gary Vee, Eric Thomas, Tony Robbins, and Robin Sharma? I listen to audiobooks every day during my one-hour bus commute. I often listen to a great book several times. Repetition isn’t just good for conditioning habits. “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Latin proverb
[i] Chip Heath, and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Crown Business; 1st edition (February 16, 2010).
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