How to make your brain do what you want.
“If change were easy,” the saying goes, “we'd all be saints.”
There's always been a gap between what human beings want to become and what we've been able to become. A lot of our greatest cultural products — science, philosophy, religion, art, etc. — represent attempts to become something better than the status quo.
Making the changes you want involves three basic steps:
1. Identify the Results You Want
2. Identify the Obstacles
3. Identify the Solutions
Fortunately, people have been trying to change themselves for a long time now. We have a lot of information, both historical and scientific, to help you along. It's just a matter of taking it one step at a time — and the first step doesn't require anything but some self-reflection.
Step 1. Identify the Results You Want
“Change is good” and “change is bad” are both fallacies.
Change has no inherent value of its own. It's a means, rather than an end.
There's no reason to apply any strategies for change unless it's helping you toward a goal. It'll also be harder without a concrete goal in mind — we work harder at something when our minds understand the eventual reward, which can come in couple different forms:
Material or physical gains are the easiest to measure. They can be definite (“I really want that Rolex”) or more abstract (“I want a raise”).
We spend a fair amount of time pursuing material words in one way or another. Our incomes are the obvious example, but other “life” goals like owning a house (rather than renting an apartment) fall into the same category.
If you're looking for a raise, a better job, access to special offers, or anything else that you can touch, spend, and measure, you've got yourself a “material reward” motivation.
Something that improves your opportunities or social position is providing a status reward. They can be associated with more concrete material rewards — we tend to pay higher-status jobs higher salaries as well, for example — but aren't necessarily.
There isn't always an obvious, recognizable improvement associated with this kind of motivation. Specific upgrades like “I want to be promoted to district manager” are certainly status rewards, but so are more intangible improvements like “I want to be taken more seriously by judges and juries” or even something as simple as “I want to look older and be treated as a responsible adult.”
All of those examples are pursuing the same basic goal: a higher status in the eyes of the people you interact with.
Motivations that are about changing your internal state are emotional. They don't necessarily carry any external reward (although they can be tied to one).
“I want to feel better about myself” is the most common example, though it's a little generic to be of use — it's better to know what would make you feel better about yourself, and then pursue that. “I want the confidence to speak up in social situations” is a good example; so is “I want to feel more comfortable flirting and dating.”
Telling the difference between the different sorts of motivations can take a little thought, and there's nothing wrong with having multiple sorts of goals all at the same time — many people pursue one change that serves multiple motivations.
For example, the very common goal of losing weight could be tied to all three kinds of motivation:
· “I want to feel more confident and attractive” (emotional)
· “I want more respect from my co-workers” (status)
· “I want to spend less on food” (material)
Not everyone will necessarily have those particular motivations for wanting to lose weight. Everyone's will be different. But no matter what the change that you're making in your life, the important thing is to know in advance what goals or motivations you're pursuing that the change will help you with.
The more you understand the specific benefits of a lifestyle change, the more willing you'll be to do the hard work necessary.
Step 2: Identify the Obstacles
If you know what you want, what's keeping you from going out and getting it?
Quite a lot, usually. But it's the question you should ask yourself to identify those obstacles.
It's easy to find reasons for avoiding change. Slightly harder is realizing which reasons you're already allowing to stop you. Think about what you want, and then think about what specific problems are keeping you from having that achieved right now:
Of all the stumbling blocks out there, this one is at least the easiest to identify.
Would you have the change you want in your life already if you could just afford what it takes? (New clothes, a gym membership, a move to a different city or country, etc.)
If so, then you've got a monetary or resource obstacle.
That's bad because, short of earning more money, there's nothing you can do if you absolutely have to make a specific benchmark.
On the bright side, few problems are that cut-and-dried. You can usually find a work-around to get the same result for cheaper, if you're willing to invest more time and effort.
The needed resource isn't always money, though it's the most common. Wanting a job that you don't have the necessary work experience for is another type of resource shortage, as is a goal that can only be achieved by “knowing the right people.”
And sad to say, there are a few things in life that can't be overcome without just flat-out acquiring the ticket cost in cash. But they're a minority. If you're coming up short on a goal because of a resource obstacle, it's a reason to start looking for a more creative solution, not a reason to give up.
Negative feedback from other people — real or simply feared — is probably the most common reason people resist change.
We're naturally inclined toward peer pressure, which is why so much of advertising focuses on the idea of “everyone is doing it.” If everyone seems to be doing something that your specific goals would contradict, that can be a major obstacle.
External pressure comes in the form of both positive and negative reinforcement. If we're rewarded for an action we're likely to keep on taking it; if we're punished for something we're less likely to do it again.
Being criticized for attempting an improvement (“you look like you're trying too hard”) has the same effect as being rewarded for slacking off (“you look fine the way you are”). Both discourage change.
Depending on the source, this can be a tough one to overcome. It requires taking some time to figure out whose opinions matter, and whether you can change them to line up with your goals or not.
What we call “laziness” falls into this category, though it's usually not that simple.
In the case where there's nothing stopping you from making a change but you still haven't managed to do it, you're dealing with internal resistance of some kind. Common examples include fear of failure (no one wants to set a goal and then fall short), established routines and habit, and yes — plain old-fashioned laziness, or unwillingness to exert yourself.
The disadvantage of internal resistance is that it's the most tied to our own feelings and emotions. It's easy to get depressed about change when it seems like you're the only one stopping it from happening — “what's wrong with me,” etc.
But on the bright side, internal resistance is something you can enlist outside pressure against. Peer pressure to do the right thing can be just as helpful as peer pressure to do the wrong thing can be harmful.
Step 3: Identify the Solutions
By now you know two key pieces of information: what specific goals you want to achieve, and what kind of obstacles are keeping you from it.
Your strategy for change is whatever bridges the obstacle to put you where you need to be.
Go ahead and make a specific plan. Write it out. It'll help keep your goals in mind (especially if you put the written plan somewhere visible).
Everyone's goals and obstacles are different, so there's no one correct strategy for change — other than to have a strategy. Vaguely hoping for improvement is not likely to go anywhere.
Chart a course and stick to it. That way, even when things are not going well, you can say “we're still going according to plan here” and feel confident of the eventual outcome.
Here are a few examples of solutions for change:
Tack a picture of the dream home to the fridge. Wallpaper your room in covers of the magazine you're trying to get a job at. Read the press releases from the office-holder you're looking to beat in the next election.
The reminder will be different for each person, but the goal's the same — keep yourself constantly aware of where you want to be, rather than just where you are now. Don't let your eyes off that prize.
This is particularly useful when the obstacles are things that can be removed by hard work on your part: not enough money, more experience needed, still have to make the right networking moves, etc.
A husband tells his wife not to let him come to bed until he's written a chapter in his novel-to-be. Workout buddies wager the night's round of beers on who can do more lifts. A boss offers a “best-dressed staffer” bonus for anyone that can outdress him in the workplace.
These are all examples of someone setting other people up to help provide motivation. By creating a minor reward for minor, day-to-day achievements, it's mimicking the overall progression of working toward a desired goal. That encourages “good” behavior, and provides short-term motivation for the small steps as well.
This works particularly well on anyone struggling with internal obstacles, as it provides outside motivation — and the occasional reminder when progress is lacking.
Summary: The Process of Change
Change happens gradually over time. Let's review the steps that take it from an idea to an actual process:
Step 1: Identify the Results You Want
· material results – tangible things you don't have now that you want to have
· social results – improvements in how other people see you and treat you
· emotional results – feeling better about yourself internally
Step 2: Identify the Obstacles
· resource obstacles – not enough money, time, or other resources
· external pressure – peer pressure to resist the change you want
· internal resistance – doubt, laziness, and other personal shortcomings
Step 3: Identify the Solution
· have a plan – write out a concrete set of steps and stick to it
· reward reminders – keep your eyes on the prize
· outside enforcement – enlist someone else's help
If you can make yourself work through all three steps and create yourself a plan in writing, there's no change you can't achieve — eventually, and with enough hard work.
This Style System is its own plan for a specific kind of change — for men who want to improve their wardrobe. If you look at the way we've constructed it, you'll see that we've taken all the steps into account:
· The Style System outlines specific advantages that dressing better can bring (motivation)
· The Style System considers budgets, motivation, social expectations, and other things that can affect a man's dressing habits (obstacles)
· The Style System lays everything out in short, step-by-step chapters designed for gradual change over time (solutions)
It's the formula for any kind of change — we're just applying it here to wardrobes.
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