Have you ever been guilty of any of the following situations? You hit the snooze button rather than get up. You decide today is the day you start eating a healthy diet, but guess what? Within 24 hours the cravings start, the snacks are out and we convince ourselves tomorrow is the new start day. What about that long overdue declutter day. Do you procrastinate and convince yourself you cannot throw out those trousers and 20 other things you have not worn for the last 10 years?
Who is in charge of these decisions? What stops us making these changes in our lives? Why is change so tough?
These stories and many more, are so typical for many of us. Other than a wet baby there are very few of us who welcome change into our lives. It represents a loss of routine and comfortability. It can prove to be an ordeal many choose to avoid. Ultimately, for things to change you have to start behaving in a new way. To achieve this outcome you need to change the situation by influencing both the heart and the mind. This can prove to be a challenge.
Your brain is influenced by two independent systems when making decisions in life. You have an emotional side that feels pain and pleasure, and a rational side that evaluates situations and possible outcomes. Understanding what drives each can be complex, but a book by Chip and Dan Heath, called “Switch”, offers a compelling idea for consideration. Based on work by Jonathan Haidt, they compare the emotional side of the brain to an elephant and the rational side to a rider.
Your elephant thinks short term reward not long term success. Its size and strength overpowers the rider in most life situations. Typical situations are when you skip the gym telling yourself you are tied, you fail numerous times to quit smoking or you say something out of anger and later regretted it. The elephant may seem weak, but it represents many good emotional qualities such as love, loyalty and compassion. Without the elephant you would not have the drive, motivation and passion to pursue your goals and get things done.
Alternatively, your rider thinks beyond the present moment analysing future possibilities for long term payoff. It provides planning and direction, but can be prone to over thinking situations. Have you ever been in a restaurant labouring over trying to pick something heathy? You go over the pages again and again only to select the worse choose you could possibly make. The rider may have the reins, but this overanalysing allows your elephant to take control and dictate the direction you go. Force alone will have no impact other than exhausting your rider. Most change failures are a result of the rider not keeping the elephant on track long enough to reach the destination.
So what can you do? How can you overcome these obstacles and clear the way for positive change in your life?
To get things done you need to appeal to both the elephant and the rider. One without the other cannot work. There are three critical steps to ensuring you stay on track. You need to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path. What looks like resistance from your elephant is due to a lack of clarity from your rider. To motivate your elephant your rider needs to provide direction to the destination. You need to engage the emotional elephant by clarifying where you are going and why. Similarly, by changing the situation or environment you allow yourself the opportunity to change the behaviour easier to move positively forward.
So what would be a good example encompassing all three steps?
Let’s say you have 3 young active kids. You want to improve your fitness and energy levels so you can enjoy playing with them. To achieve that goal you decide you want to start running 20 minutes in the mornings 3 times a week. To shape the path you decide to prepare each night prior the run by placing the running equipment in a visible easy accessible place. Each of these behavioural actions satisfies the needs of our emotional and rational brain. Success is virtually guaranteed.
If you have a change goal but are finding it challenging appealing to both your rider and elephant please contact me today. Call me on 0410329278 or send a message to discuss your needs. I am here to help.