August 10, 2020

Lubricating the process of habit change


Here’s the bill of goods we’ve been sold by the personal development industrial complex.

There’s a magical, one size fits all solution for habit change. Just buy this book, download this app and follow this program, and you’ll be a new person in thirty days or less.

It may sound absurd, but considering how our caveman brains are wired, it’s no surprise that it’s a fifteen billion dollar a year industry.

The problem is, each new tool that come out becomes a social talisman, or sacred object. It’s just another easy, cheap way to publicly pat ourselves on the back for having done something to improve our condition.

Now that we’ve done the hard word of reading a book and taking copious notes, psychologically, it feels like we’ve processed the concept and can be done with it.

But in reality, we haven’t integrated anything new into our daily lives. It’s in one ear and out the other.

Take it from someone who has literally worn a social talisman on his shirt for half my life. Habit change is hard and nuanced, and if you don’t lubricate the process, it won’t stick. If a new idea is going to extend utility into your life, then there have to be enough hooks onto which it can hang.

My psychologist friends talks about this all the time. She’s always reminding me that each person has their own story, their own motivational system, both of which are embedded in complex social, psychological and cultural contexts.

And so, the best interventions are the ones that are robust and individually tailored to help clients improve their lives. There are as many treatment plans as there are people to use them. There’s no off the shelf solution, it’s a lifelong process.

If you’ve even visited a medical clinic and noticed literature about whole person care, this is what they’re talking about. The best way to care for patients, the doctors say, is to consider their full spectrum of their complex needs, medical, behavioral, socioeconomic and beyond.

No social talisman required.

The beauty of this compassionate mantra for patient care is, it also works when caring for ourselves. If there is some condition of our life we’d like to improve, we lubricate the process of habit change. Starting with the core assumption that the potential solutions will come in many different formats.

Some people will need mantras, some people will need routines, some people will need breathing exercises, and some people will need sticky notes.

Fantastic, all useful solutions. But we accept that there’s no superficial master key to unlock our potential.

That’s why we try lots of things. It’s plug and chug, as my math teacher used to joke, and we stay with the process until something resonates and this new habit or idea starts to weaves itself into our personal fabric.

Remember, there are as many solutions as there are problems and people to have them. As you extend care to yourself, look for ways to reduce friction and wear and tear.

Change becomes so much easy to swallow.

Are you open to whatever kind of tool will positively change your condition?