So I guess I'll start by posting some older articles that I've written a while back. This isn't tactical in nature. I was asked to write a column for a friends local magazine. The target audience was the furthest thing from tactical, so take it for what its worth!

So here's the first in a series on Change and why it is so damn hard!

Hope you enjoy!
The distant rumbling snaps me out of some pretty deep thoughts and I am suddenly seized with a feeling of familiar dread that I have become so accustomed to lately. It’s almost 9 am on a Tuesday morning and that can only mean one thing: It’s recycling day and once again, I have been derelict in my duty as the designated “Recyclable Waste Transportation Officer” for our particular residence (a position I am always quick to point out that I neither campaigned for nor particularly desired, but is mine nonetheless). For reasons I have yet to discover, this is the one aspect of my domestic transformation with which I continue to struggle.  Experience has taught me that based on the volume of the truck and the colloquy of the neighborhood dogs, if I go now, I can still make it with at least a good minute to spare. So naturally, with all that time extra time to spare, my thoughts drift back to my previous contemplations (or what my lovely Bride-to-Be would call procrastinations) on the topic of change, or more importantly, lasting change.

Most men and women go through their lives using no more than a fraction—usually a rather small fraction—of the potentialities within them.  The reservoir of unused human talent and energy is vast, and learning to tap that reservoir more effectively is one of the exciting tasks ahead for any of us. More often than not, we find that real change occurs not through addition, but subtraction. Simply put, lasting change isn’t just about the introduction of new information, but it must involve an actual transformation of how we interpret that information. We have to transform the way we think, the way we feel, and most importantly, the way we behave. The bottom line is that there in so real trick to achieving a lasting change, it really is quite simple once you understand the mechanics behind it all and realize that it can’t come through sheer force of will. Epiphanies, resolutions, & promises of change alone aren’t enough, lasting change can only be achieved through re-training the way we think in order to increase the repertoire of available thoughts.  We have to realize we’re going to feel uncomfortable because lasting change requires a different kind of effort; an effort of application, trying new things, experimenting with new behaviors, asking new (and often difficult) questions about ourselves and our lives. The key is to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, because as recent research has shown, the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile, and that is when real growth occurs. (The dogs next door are starting to bark; I really need to get downstairs now if I’m ever going to make it.)

So what does that look like in practice? When seeking to make a lasting change, we must not only understand the process and anatomy of change, but we must also search within ourselves for the ineffective thoughts that keep us from realizing our true potential, the emotional barriers that prevent us from enjoying the successes we achieve, and of course the self-defeating behaviors that undermine our attempts at lasting change and sabotage our chances to be truly happy. Once we become aware of our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions we can began the methodical work of transforming ourselves so that we can uncover our true potential and realize lasting change. In next month’s issue of Northeast Neighbor, we’ll spend some time discussing the process and anatomy of change and why we need to quite literally transform the structures of our brain if we really want to keep the changes we a trying to make. Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I’m pretty sure I just saw the recycling truck drive by my house once again. Oh well, I’ll get him next week.

In last month’s article, I suggested that lasting change can’t come through will power alone but can only be achieved through re-training the way we think and changing our repertoire of available thoughts.
So why is it so hard to change anyways? In order to answer this question, it helps to have a basic understanding of how our brains function when it comes to our behavior. The first thing to remember is that most mental processes happen automatically. If you think about it, there is always that stream of consciousness that flows on by without any direction or effort. On the other hand, there is obviously also an element of our mental processes that can be fully under our control. This kind of controlled thinking takes effort, proceeds in steps and takes center stage in our consciousness. For example, what time would you would need to leave your house in order to catch a 6:30 pm flight at the Charlotte Airport? That’s a question you’d have to consciously think about. You’d have to factor in rush hour traffic, the weather, and the potential for the long lines at the security check point. On the drive to the airport however, the majority of your mental activity would occur automatically. Deciding how much pressure to apply to the gas and brake pedal, changing lanes, daydreaming, keeping a safe distance between you and the cars around you, and even debating just how many miles per hour over the speed limit you can travel with out seriously risking a speeding ticket all occur without much conscious thought at all. Hundreds of simultaneous automatic mental operations occur every second and are simply conditioned responses to the stimuli all around us. Controlled process on the other hand, is limited to a single conscious thought at a time.

So when it comes to trying to change a behavior that involves hundreds of automatic conditioned mental operations that occur in response to the same stimuli we encounter in our everyday environment, our conscious, controlled mental processes are massively outgunned in a battle of wills. No matter how valiantly we struggle to change our bad habits through sheer force of will, we are almost inevitably doomed to fail. Once we understand the power of stimulus and control, we can use it to our advantage by changing the stimuli in our environment in order to elicit the desired response. This can be as simple as throwing away all the junk food in our refrigerator, taking an alternate route to the office to avoid passing the donut shop, or packing a healthy lunch to eat at the park in order to avoid the break room with its wall of vending machines.

Often times, the introduction of a new, more powerful stimulus to your environment is an extremely effective strategy for change. For example, as hard as it is for me to admit, I used to be a terrible dresser. For years my entire wardrobe consisted of old sport team t-shirts, shorts, and sweats from high schools & colleges I never even went too. Dressing up to me meant wearing jeans and sneakers in place of sweats & slides with socks. I made a ton of new years resolutions and promises to myself that I would start to dress nicer but I always just ended up back in sweats again. I couldn’t just decide to change through sheer force of will. Instead I found a round about way to change as I introduced a powerful new stimulus. I got engaged. I now have a closet full of stylish clothes. I have memorized what shirt goes with what pants and I have a personal style consultant to recommend variations. After almost five years of consistent stimulus (I get dressed in the morning) and response (a look of approval or a look of, well let’s just be honest, horror from the lovely and talented Kimberly), I can even manage a successful trip to the mall every now and then all on my own.

Sounds pretty simple right? Change the stimulus and change the response. Well it’s a start. Next month we’ll tackle what to do with that little voice in the back of your mind that seems bent on derailing all your efforts toward lasting change.