3 Keys to Ignite Action and Make Lasting Change
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin
Maybe you’ve heard about the Pleasure Principle? Freudian psychologists theorized that it’s our human tendency to avoid pain and seek out pleasure.
Supposedly, our need for instant gratification changes when we become adults. We can take on pain and delay pleasure for something that might serve us better in the long run. This theory is known as the Reality Principle.
You and I might call it maturity.
When I was 15 years old and quite far from maturity, my mother used to yell herself hoarse to get me off the couch. I was addicted to TV. I consumed it in mass quantity to the point that I’d recognized nearly every game show jingle, primetime TV opening themes, and commercial catchphrases line by line.
As you know, nagging rarely works on a teenager. My poor mother was forced to resort to the old ways of her Asian upbringing. She threatened me with a switch, and the punishment was going to be doled out in public, on our front lawn. Since I took everything so literal then, I believed her.
That turned out to be a good thing. Because the threat of public humiliation overrode the pain of getting off the couch, I sprang into action. I began looking for part-time work, and a few short weeks later, I landed myself a job. Then, once I started getting a nice paycheck every two weeks, I quit TV.
This one change, to stop watching TV, created momentum for other positive changes to follow. I started trying out for sports, school plays, choir, student council, and for an introvert, I even tried out for the debate team. Let’s just say whatever extracurricular activities my school offered, I was showing up and saying, “Yes, please!”
So how did I go from couch potato to social butterfly? Three words:
They are the three keys that ignited me into action and allowed me to make lasting changes that became lifelong habits. Let’s take a look at them in detail.
Pain. In order for you to take action, the pain of doing nothing about your situation must feel considerably more painful than the pain of having to make a change. Think about where you are now. Then, ask yourself these questions:
1. What do I stand to lose, in terms of my health, money, self-respect and peace of mind if I don’t do something about my situation?
2. What harm will it cause me and my loved ones if I were to continue doing nothing?
3. Everyday that I don’t (insert action you want to take), I feel self-loathing, angry, and disappointed in myself.
Pleasure. In order for you to make a change, the change must bring you more pleasure than your current circumstance.
Think about where you want to be. Then, ask yourself these questions:
1. What would making that change or my taking that action feel like? (Pride, relief, etc.)
2. How will the people who matter most to me feel about it? (admiration, respect)
3. How will this action raise the quality of my life and the people I love?
Replacement. In order for the change to become a lifelong habit, you need to replace your old way of doing things with something new, something better. The key here is replacing, not breaking an old habit. This study explains why focusing on breaking bad habits won’t get you far.
It is also important that you figure out the cause and not merely the symptoms of your inaction. In my case, TV watching wasn’t the problem. The problem was boredom and stress. The pressure to get all “A’s” was stressing me out so I used TV to cope. Outside of school, I didn’t have anything else going for me so I used TV to relieve boredom. Once the afterschool activities replaced TV as something more fun and meaningful to me, change was no longer something that had to be forced on me. I willingly became an architect of change.
My posts in March will focus on the theme of “Springing into Action.” For more on managing change, you might enjoy, “How to Keep Calm Amidst Chaos.”
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