They say people don’t change, but author Sean Young’s upcoming book, “Stick With It,” examines the science behind doing just that—and making it stick.
Over the past fifteen years, Young has worked with the brightest minds in science to identify the psychological processes that affect behavioral change, and according to his book, his methods have achieved a “300 percent increase in lasting change for both individuals and groups.” In other words, by making use of Young’s techniques, you are three times as likely to be able to make a change in your life and permanently stick with it.
Why is this important? Just take a look at the way many people handle their health. Do they stick with their diets? Do they routinely take their needed medications? Do they exercise every week? How about finances? Or their relationship habits?
Allowing these important areas of our lives to go unexamined and uncontrolled is the source of a vast amount of pain and loss, but by forming positive habits, we can defeat the behaviors we once regarded as insurmountable obstacles.
To help you do this, let’s take a look at a few of Young’s suggestions on how we can create change and—just as importantly—stick with it.
Take Baby Steps
Young advises anyone wanting to create lasting change in their lives to do one simple thing—take baby steps. If you’re having trouble making a change, don’t obsess over the end goal. Don’t get caught up in the big picture. Just take it one tiny step at a time.
Think of change as a ladder. You put one foot on the first rung, and push off. And then you do it again. And again. And again.
You’ve probably heard this before. In fact, you’ve probably tried this method already. Young acknowledges this.
“Most people think they are taking small steps, but in fact their steps aren’t small enough,” he writes. If you’re having trouble making a change, go even smaller.
And don’t just take smaller steps, says Young. Instead of taking the age-old advice of “dream big,” you need to dream small. Manage your expectations. You’re taking baby steps right now, so don’t focus on the big results—just focus on the tiny positive results of your baby steps.
If you do this, your brain gets the reward it expects, and you’ll be more likely to stick with your process of change. But if you continuously imagine losing 100 pounds, and you lose 1 pound over the course of a week, you’re probably going to give up.
Take baby steps and manage your expectations. These are the keys to beginning the process of change.
Utilize the Power of Community
Young begins talking about the power of community by speaking of the effectiveness of cults. They pull people in completely—even those who are well-educated and aware of their surroundings—and change their habits and lifestyles.
But just as a cult does this for nefarious purposes, a community can help you make changes in your life for positive reasons.
Take a look around you. What is your community? Where are you most connected? Are the people who influence you the most your family? Are they your friends, co-workers, or teachers? What is it, exactly, that they are encouraging you to do or not do?
If your community isn’t encouraging you to meet your goals, or, worse, they’re encouraging habits that move you farther away from those goals, you need to seek out some new people.
Is there a community that is centered around the change you wish to make? For example, if you want to lose weight, you might want to join a fitness class at your local YMCA. Or if you want to quit smoking, you can join a Facebook group centered on that pursuit.
The power of community lies in interaction—you’ll feel compelled to say and do things that will win approval and make you feel that you belong. Make sure that your own communities support the change you want to make in your life, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
Emphasize the Importance
It might seem obvious, but we each do what is important to us. No amount of psychological tricks or self-help advice can help someone who simply doesn’t find change all that important.
So the question becomes, as Young puts it, “How do you make something important to people if it’s not something they’re naturally interested in?”
The answer to this question lies within the power of your own mind.
One of the techniques recommended by Young is visualization—you need to imagine your future self. If you’re trying to lose weight, try envisioning yourself as thin and fit, and let that motivate you. Or if you’re trying to save for retirement, imagine yourself old and penniless, and you’ll scare yourself into caring. Young calls this “The ghost of the future,” referencing the final spirit that visits Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”
Generate empathy for your future self, and achieving your goals will suddenly be all the more important.
Make it Easy
If you want to change, you’re going to have to make it easy on yourself. As Young writes, “When barriers are in front of people, they quickly stop doing something.”
Look for ways to make your own process of change easier. Want to sign up at a gym? Make sure it’s close to your home. Trying to eat better? Get rid of the junk food options in your home and replace them with healthy alternatives. Actively remove the barriers that lie between you and your goal.
Sometimes those barriers are disguised, however. One of the most common ways we make things harder for ourselves, writes Young, is by giving ourselves too many choices. If your goal is to make better use of your time, and you have 102 outfits to choose from each morning, you’re making this goal much harder to attain. Consider culling your wardrobe until you have only the bare essentials—this will make your mornings much easier and more efficient.
Get rid of the barriers—visible and invisible—that keep the small steps toward your goal difficult, and you’ll be that much closer to achieving your dreams.
Hack Your Mind
Behavioral changes don’t begin with action—they begin in the mind. Rejecting the conventional wisdom of the self-help world, Young recommends a set of techniques called neruohacks to help you change the way your mind works.
One neurohack involves the way in which we identify ourselves. Do you think of yourself as someone who usually doesn’t finish tasks? Do you imagine yourself to be the man or woman who has to have that “one more drink”?
Try telling yourself that you’re not these things, no matter your past behavior. You’re the person who finishes every task. You’re the fellow who refuses to drink past his limit. You’re the person who is outrageously addicted to the gym.
Keep telling yourself this, and you’ll begin making decisions based not on your own past behavior, but on this improved mental image of yourself. You’ll change.
Change your mind, and you’ll change your habits—every time.
Tools for Success
Young doesn’t prescribe a certain way of doing things. “Stick With It” is all about giving you the tools you need to make your own way, and therein lies its power—it helps you get to know your own mind so that you can help yourself.
These four methods of creating long-lasting change in your life are just the beginning—there are many more tools at your disposal that will help you continue your journey toward change. Make use of every one, and you’ll be empowered to become the person you’ve always dreamt of being.