Vintage photo of cheerleaders, via University of Florida (links to flickr page)
Today, in my news reader, I came across yet-another-blogger who is fits into the “advice” or “coach” genre. I added the person, even though I know it’s unlikely the person will last long. Each week, I delete one or two of them from my feed and always for the same reason: they present complex problems and answer with ridiculously simple advice.
It’s the same with health and/or fitness magazines, too.
It took me a long time to understand that real problems are rarely simple. Everything substantial connects to everything else.
For example, take the simple yet real problem of cooking more meals at home: When I stop eating take-out, I have to make sure I have set aside time for shopping…and time for cooking…oh, and making sure I have the right pans and knives and such…and also that I know what I want to cook (or even how to cook)…and then I need to clean-up after I cook (pans, utensils, etc)…and….
Yeah, I agree. It sounds silly if you already cook every day…but all of those things were part of my experience with a simple lifestyle change to “cook every day”.
So when I begin to think about changing my life, I remember that the ripple effect is often larger than expected. I mean, hey…sure….it’s great to have the willpower to change, but willpower won’t open a can if you don’t own a can opener.
Keep in mind, that example only addresses the physical things involved.
When I consider the psychological, I also must consider what it takes to literally change the wiring in my brain that keeps leading me back to where I started.
Before somebody says “just tough up and do it” let me say “go **** yourself.”
Also, go read a book on brain plasticity.
That’s probably more useful.
It was for me.
Changing habits isn’t as simple as having the “willpower” to change, although the desire to change needs to be present for any change to initiate. Changing habits is about giving the brain time to grow new neural pathways that makes the behavior feel natural. There are tons of tricks to make this easier, too…and I can assure you I use every trick I know.
Which leads back to the reason why I’m writing this: when I stumble across some blogger or magazine article that says “all you have to do is XYZ and your life will be easy”, I am almost certainly finished reading or listening to that person.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if we are discussing blog articles or face-to-face encounters with friends: I don’t need a cheerleader when I’m changing my life. I don’t need platitudes. I don’t need ‘easy answers’ to difficult questions.
One key reason why my wife’s support is meaningful is because it’s actually support. It’s not empty words. When I talk about my problems with change, she listens and tells me what she’s observing from her perspective.
Because I trust her, I listen to what she says and take it to heart. By listening, I learn something more about myself and am then better equipped to make and sustain the changes that are necessary to reach my goals.
Of course, I have to reach inside myself to find the initial motivation to change.
Of course, I have to reach inside myself to sustain the change.
I also know from experience that it’s easy to get diverted or distracted. It’s easy to fall back into old habits without even realizing it’s happened until I notice it hours, days or weeks later.
That’s not about willpower. That’s about how our brains work. That’s the brain plasticity stuff.
In those situations, it’s important to get feedback from somebody I trust, to figure out what I’m doing wrong, to find tricks to support the change, and to get guidance when I cannot see what I, myself, am doing wrong. There isn’t a “Top 10″ list that’s going to do much good, when things get tough.
…And it’s the reason why I delete so many of these coaches, advice bloggers, and others from my feeds. At best, their articles are empty cheerleading aimed at a generic “reader” they are imagining. At worst, they offer subtly condescending messages saying “it’s easy” as a way to create anxiety that can be exploited to sell memberships, classes, boost egos, grow brands or whatever else their agendas might be….
But not one of those articles or agendas are actually about me.
When it comes to change, I am what matters most if I want to be successful. I have to understand that it isn’t going to be easy. I have to understand that my chance of success is near zero (proof). And I have to use every trick in my book to make sure I overcome the odds against me. What works for me is what works for me.