Ever wondered what’s behind our resistance to change? Dr Matt Prescott, the founder of the Ban The Bulb energy efficiency campaign, shares his thoughts…
1. Good and Bad change
If there is one thing that human beings hate, it is change.
We especially hate change when it’s forced on us.
Unfortunately, the mental processes that our brains use to protect us from bad changes can also get in the way of changes that would be good for us; such as changing our diets, exercising more or looking after our environment.
2. Survival of the weakest
There are good evolutionary reasons for avoiding new things.
After all, if our ancestors had eaten any old berry and mushroom, rather than just the varieties they had known to be safe, they might not have become our ancestors!
Unfortunately, our brain’s hardwired bias in favour of what we already know means that it can be extraordinarily difficult to achieve even tiny changes in our daily lives.
3. Excuses, excuses
This is partly because our brains are brilliantly skilled at offering a range of fantastically seductive reasons for not changing any of our established behaviours or routines.
How many of the world’s greatest prevarications have been triggered by well-timed thoughts such as “the moment’s not quite right”, “tomorrow would definitely be better” or “we need to collect more information first”?
Of course, there’s no way of knowing when a perfect moment might ever occur, doing something tomorrow is always going to be less threatening than doing it today and it’s always possible to collect more information, should you want to.
Just like death and taxes, incomplete information, uncertainty and risk are facts of life, so it should come as no surprise that good intentions can easily evaporate within a few milliseconds whenever our own brains decide to work against us.
4. Making a start
One sensible way of dealing with the undermining mind games that our brains sometimes play on us is simply to make a start and to get the ball rolling without delay.
Once any ball is rolling it stands a far greater chance that it will keep on moving and perhaps even build up a head of steam.
5. All change is difficult
Sadly, things don’t always get any easier once you’ve made a start, as the next big challenge is to avoid the temptation of under-estimating the scale of the challenge ahead.
Many a bold ambition has been derailed by overly optimistic under-estimates of the time, effort and determination required to achieve even modest goals.
Whether the challenge you’ve set yourself involves getting up 2 minutes earlier in the morning, cutting down on the number of chocolate biscuits you dunk in your tea or buying a new type of light bulb, all change (large or small) is difficult.
This is because once you have picked up and polished a habit for many years it becomes incredibly difficult to look at it differently or to consider any of the other alternatives equally.
Many of our long-established habits make life better, but it still pays to look at what habits you have and to consider whether there are any better alternatives out there.
6. Giving yourself a chance
One useful trick that increases the chances of developing a new habit is to start small, but to aim high.
This strategy allows you to break the demoralising loop made up of half-hearted attempts, failure and giving up.
By breaking down any task into its constituent pieces you are far more likely to see a route through the chaos and to work out what exactly is going to be required of you.
The aiming high bit is important because it gives you something exciting to aim for and a reason to escape the siren calls of the status quo.
7. Success breeds success
Whenever a big problem is looked at as a series of small problems it is much easier to feel that you have a decent chance of succeeding.
This matters because no-one enjoys feeling inadequate or a failure.
Feeling heroic is so much better for getting things done!
Success is also vitally important as it provides the emotional encouragement needed to sustain effort and make us feel happy.
Once you have started to succeed, and to feel happy about change, it can become addictive and help you to find the motivation to keep going.
8. Rational versus Emotional
This brings us to the tricky fact that we are not the highly rational, logical beings we frequently like to think that we are…
In fact we are socially anxious and insecure animals that crave the approval of others and status.
This means that we not only need to summon up the courage to change ourselves but also the guts to face the disapproval of others.
9. Build your team
A useful tactic here is to build a team around you that is made up of your best supporters.
You need people who will tell you the truth, help you when you need help and keep you pointed in the right general direction.
We all know people who will be only too happy to undermine us and chip away at our resolve… just don’t ask them to join your team.
Change is hard enough already!
10. Change starts at home
The last thought I have to offer, is that change starts at home.
It’s not always going to be possible for other people to drop everything and to change your world for you.
Until YOU want to change things for the better, others cannot help you make it happen.
However, once you have really, and resolutely, decided to change something about your life it is a fair bet that nothing will stop you.
The fact that you are on the uSwitch website, and thinking about changing your energy supplier, means that you have successfully mastered several of the steps required for making things happen.
I wish you the very best with changing your life for the better, and with sustaining and expanding your efforts over the years ahead.
Change doesn’t have to be frightening.
It could be the best thing you ever do.