For whatever reasons, quite often wrong or misperceived, we all try to introduce some change. Be it about our own lives, our teams, or our whole organisations, we want to make things better. Rest assured, it is never easy. Change sucks, is painful, and sometimes requires unearthly amounts of willpower. And it’s when you only apply it to yourself! Thinking of your family, your team, or whatever bigger entity – you may as well start praying.
Because, at one moment or another, you will fail miserably.
Imagine living a single life and wanting to change just one thing about it. Maybe your morning schedule? Or your nourishment, say – for whatever pointless and irrational reason, turning vegetarian for a while? Or being smart and rising just a bit earlier to make your schedule for the day?
How hard can it be?
If you’ve ever watched Top Gear, you know it’s a trick question. If it was that easy, we’d all be fit, healthy fed and properly groomed. As you look around next time you actually see someone other than yourself, you’ll notice that it doesn’t happen that often. The answer is: it can be very hard.
And there’s a plethora of reasons for that. Here are the most crucial three.
First, we overestimate our willpower. It depletes through the day and, sadly, is absurdly dependent on our blood sugar – which is why many diets fail most of the time. If you don’t believe me, buy something extremely unhealthy and astonishingly delicious. In US, think of donuts. With jam. And bacon. And whatever the hell your weird people add on top. In UK, remove donuts, but add some beans. And sausages. And scrambled eggs. You know the drill. Then make sure it’s in your sight, the whole day.
I can guarantee you it won’t last. No man is stronger than a donut.
Second, we underestimate the power of our habits and how they guide us through the day. Think on your morning just this day – why did you do things, from waking up to leaving for work, in this specific order? The answer is, because you follow the exactly same schedule each damn Monday. Then, how did you get to work? Do you know why you choose this particular way over another? My good friend has a tricky answer to that, as every day she takes a bit different route. Yet, without a miss, every single day she uses satnav that utilises real time traffic information to plot a fastest way. And do you remember the sequence of things you did upon arrival at work? Sure, you do. Undress. Turn the computer on. Go for a coffee. Return to your desk. Launch Outlook. Review emails. Go get some sandwich…
Every fucking workday. And somehow, we’re scared that AI might take our workplaces. We’re not that far apart.
That’s the power of habits. The sheer amount of decisions we make on autopilot is astonishing. Yet we do, as it streamlines our actions and, funnily enough given the first reason, gives us more conscious willpower. After all, would you really want to make a serious decision on how to use your toothbrush every time you’re in the bathroom?
Third, somehow, we tend to believe that whatever we do in our lives, is separate from everything else. I tried to quit morning coffee once. Because that’s just a single event, having nothing to do with anything else I do, right? WRONG. It’s just a single piece of a bigger, highly networked, and variable sequence of actions. I can skip my morning coffee – if I wake up at a different location, in completely unknown circumstances, and having a different goal for the day. Unless all these are fulfilled – disrupting my sequence of habits – I will crave for coffee with increasing immense.
The three reasons above do not complete the list. There are more, including some complex biochemical ones, with neurotransmitters and hormones taking the extra toll which you will be unable to fight with.
Bottom line is, at one point or another, you will fail. Even when changing just yourself. For a lack of a better word, that sucks, doesn’t it?
Yes, you will fail. Once, twice thrice. Make no mistake – it WILL happen.
The question is, what will you do then?
Be prepared. That’s it. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Since you know that, one day, it will happen, you may as well plan for it. If you don’t, you’ll fall into the inevitable trap of “oh no, I failed, what do I do now”. Which, at such moment of despair, depleted willpower, and craving for automated habitual response will always push you on the path of the least resistance.
And then, you will fail increasingly, like inexperienced pilot in a death spiral.
You might not want that to happen.
Be prepared then.
Accept the fact that you’re the human being, perfect in imperfection. Accept you’re only capable of limited control of reality. Accept that there will be a moment when things, inevitably, go wrong.
Plan for it.
Ate that damn donut? Make a decision, in advance, to go for a half hour walk, regardless of the weather. Make a choice and commit to it.
Because, failing once is not the end of the world. Failing repeatedly, on the same thing, might make you and idiot. But then, you wouldn’t read this text, so I have no reason to care.
The bigger the scale, the bigger the contingency plan. Things will go wrong. Repeatedly.
Only the resilient survive though.