Making Change — Because you want to!
There’s a theory that when we’re young, authority figures tell us what to do, and when we’re older we adopt our own sort of internal authoritarian, an invisible voice that periodically whispers things into our ears, like, You really shouldn’t eat that piece of cake. This voice is our sense of obligation, a vague, nagging feeling that we should do more or better, and it frequently leaves us feeling guilty and overtaxed.
A fair amount of research debunks obligation as a motivator. It can work for a while, but in the end, if we don’t find something to replace the should with a want, we’re not likely to continue whatever behavior we were beating ourselves up to do. This is an important point for all of us who struggle with New Year’s resolutions, or just want to make more effective life changes.
Ask yourself hard questions: I should give up smoking, but am I really ready to do that?
If you’re not ready or prepared to do something, don’t! You wouldn’t drive a car without a license, or get married if you didn’t feel strong affection for your potential mate. Find another thing you are ready to change, or decide to give yourself a certain time period to sit with it and then re-evaluate.
Break It Down.
Explore the smaller steps that might be necessary for the larger change to take place.
Am I ready to smoke half a pack a day instead of a whole one?
Is there one kind of exercise or movement I like that I might do just once a week?
Sometimes the fear of bigger obligations can disappear as you focus on and accomplish smaller steps.
Change Your Language.
A lot of the obligatory excuses we tell ourselves are lies that take the place of positive alternative statements. We should acknowledge reality: Do we want to do something or feel obligated to do it? Typically what we have to do is simply what we’ve chosen, and if we really wanted to (even with some difficulty), it could be changed. The language of “want” is a powerful mind changer.
Obligatory to Celebratory.
Pick behavioral change because it brings you joy. Can exercise help me reclaim my love of dancing? Can I take an extra long lunch hour once a month to spend with someone I love? Why do we usually want to change our behavior anyway? The answer is almost always for a happier life. So start living happier now. Celebrations don’t come at the end of something–they come every day.