Change is hard. Really hard. You know because you have a bad habit (or habits) that you’ve tried to quit: smoking, overeating, saying negative things to your spouse, exceeding your budget. Research shows that people, in general, experience extreme difficulty changing a single habit.
• Seventy percent of borrowers who take out home equity loans to consolidate debt wind up with higher debt within two years, according to the nonprofit Cambridge Credit Counseling.
• A University of Scranton study found that a mere 8 percent of people keep their New Year’s resolutions.
• Just 20 percent of obese dieters sustain a 10 percent weight loss for more than a year, according to the National Weight Control Registry.
In other words, humans stink at change.
But change is doable, says Steve Olsher, author of the New York Times best-seller What Is Your WHAT? Discover the One Amazing Thing You Were Born to Do. “Before anything can change in your life, you have to shed light on it,” he says. “There has to be a moment when you take a hard look at the truth and contend with the fact it is no longer acceptable. You must be uncomfortable to make a change.”
Here are some steps that can help:
1. Get real with yourself.
If you’ve been stuck in trying to resolve problems with finances, health, relationships, career or other areas, seek tough love. “Ask for honest feedback from those you love,” Olsher says. But be prepared to truly hear it and separate the message from the messenger. “Assure the person, ‘I will not get mad at you. I need to hear the truth.’ Then don’t get mad when you hear it.”
2. Build a support network.
Recent studies indicate that people you spend time with affect your habits, whether good or bad. American and Chilean researchers found that a peer support group inspired people to double their financial savings; in the same study, other participants were offered a higher interest rate on their savings, an incentive that had zero effect. And a much-quoted study from Harvard found that those who have at least one obese friend have a 57 percent greater chance of being obese themselves.
3. Take baby steps.
“The key to success is stringing together enough of the right decisions,” Olsher contends, and science backs this up. A classic Stanford University study observed kids who had trouble with math. One group was instructed to set smaller goals to tackle math problems, while a second group was asked to set long-term goals. The first group accurately solved 80 percent of the problems; the second group, only 40 percent.
4. Focus on avoiding loss.
If focusing on a goal doesn’t work, don’t be surprised. In their best-selling Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler write that humans are more motivated to avoid loss than to attain gain. In other words, envisioning a life plagued with heart disease or an early death is a more powerful agent for creating healthy eating habits than picturing yourself looking hot in a swimsuit.
To support this research, the authors interviewed Apple customers waiting in line to buy new iPhones. Those who had just purchased the phone would not sell it for less than $1,218 over what they paid, but those who had not yet bought the iPhone wouldn’t pay more than $97 extra. In other words, Apple customers were 12 times more motivated by the fear of losing their new smartphones than they were to obtain new ones.
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