At some point in each of our lives, there comes a moment when we decide something needs to change. It won’t be the same thing for everyone, but something needs to give. It may be as big as ending a relationship or a leaving a job, or as personal as losing five pounds or getting a cat. As human beings we need to change in order to grow. Yet change is one of the most difficult things we can attempt. Anyone who has tried to make a lifestyle change knows that it is all about consistency, clarity, and persistence. And the majority of people who would like to change something in their lives are often at a loss when it comes to planning for that change, even if they know what they would like to do differently.
In order to make a successful lifestyle change, it helps to understand the different ways in which change can occur. In general, there are three ways behavioral change occurs. While they are all valid, each one is triggered by a different catalyst and usually occurs at different speeds. When considering a behavioral modification, it helps to recognize the root cause of the desired change.
The first reason for change is also the most common. This is known as change by crisis. It can be an external or an internal crisis, but it is something that brings us up short and rocks our world. A sudden job loss or a divorce would qualify as an external crisis. At the opposite end of the spectrum, health issues qualify as internal crises. A heart attack, the onset of diabetes, or a stroke, would all rank as this type of crises. However, change by crisis does not have to be triggered by something on such a grand scale. Sometimes the issue is something smaller and more personal. Looking in a mirror and not liking the way we look can trigger a change by crisis. Personally, my weight loss journey began when I saw a picture of myself at an office holiday party. I had thought I was looking pretty good until I saw this picture and realized my head looked like a basketball sticking out of a turtleneck. I had been slowly gaining weight but since it was a gradual process it was easy to ignore until I saw that picture and the reality set in. Thus began my journey of weight loss and improved well-being.
The second type of change is much more subtle. That is change caused by osmosis. In a sense, this type of change could almost be thought of as behavioral evolution. Change by osmosis occurs when one is surrounded by a group of people and the behavior within that group begins to change. For example, let’s say you have a group of friends who collectively decide they need to lose a few pounds. It may not be something you had considered, but because you enjoy the company of the others, you join the group along with them. You begin to lose weight and start to change your eating habits simply because those around you are doing the same. You never really thought about creating a healthier lifestyle yet because you are surrounded by like-minded people, you change your own behavior in order to identify with the group. This is not the most common reason for change, but it does happen on a fairly regular basis. Change by osmosis occurs at more gradual pace and can have the lowest rate of long-term sustainability.
Change by vision is the most likely to create lasting results because it is something a person truly envisions as a benefit for themselves. This type of change occurs when someone wants to make a lifestyle change because they want the benefits that behavioral modification can bring. The classic example is of someone who decides to lose weight. There are two ways this person can look at the reason for the weight loss. On one hand, they may want to shed pounds because they should–they have been told to do so, or feel it is necessary to meet a societal norm. This person may lose the weight but it is very unlikely they will maintain that new weight for any length of time. Why? Because they have no vision of how their life will be improved by shedding those pounds.
On the other hand, the person who wants to lose weight so they can play with their children and watch them grow has a much better chance of losing the weight and keeping it off. It is a vision of what life will be like once the goal has been attained that is the root cause for the change. There must be a clear, well-defined outcome in order for a change by vision to be truly effective, and it is the most powerful reason for creating sustainable changes.
Although change by vision creates powerful reason for change, it can also take the longest for the goal to be achieved. Because we live in a world of instant gratification, this can endanger the outcome. If you are striving to create a change by vision, you must also be aware of the need for delayed gratification. The efforts we put forward at the beginning of a new diet or new exercise plan do not show immediate results. It is only after a prolonged period of time that we begin to see the differences we desire. Until those results become evident, it is very easy to back slide to familiar and unhealthy practices because–well, you guessed it –change is hard.
If you are thinking about making a change in your lifestyle, it is helpful to clarify the reason you want to make that adjustment. Once you do that, you can begin to plan the most effective ways to reach your goal as well as identifying how long it may take to achieve, and what obstacles you may face before it becomes a reality.