Change Only 1 Thing

Stop trying to change multiple things simultaneously.

The challenge

When it comes to making changes we often attempt to change several things at once and this is hard to do because each one requires its own level of effort, energy and concentration. Unless we create the necessary capacity in our already hectic lives, managing multiple changes means none of them will be the priority they need to be and excuses will creep in that dilute, and eventually, suppress our motivation. More often than not the results are disappointing.

Having only one change to focus on will establish a tolerable priority and it will enable us to conquer the multiple negative influences and excuse distractions. And, because we only have one change to think about, we can maximise our effort, energy, and concentration and are more likely to reach a successful outcome. The other dimension to master is time and how long must we put in the effort, energy and concentration before we start to see results or achieve our goal.

Motivation is the key

The key to making important changes in our lives lies in our motivation to succeed and transform the idea of a change into sustainable action.

I suspect few people would argue against the importance of motivation as a measure of change outcomes, successful or not. To achieve sustainable outcomes we first need to understand something about motivation, how it affects the way we think about change and the corresponding actions or behaviours we employ.

The psychology community suggests there are 2 forms of motivation: Extrinsic Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation emanates from external influences. It occurs when we engage in an action or activity not necessarily because we enjoy it but rather to earn a reward such as praise, social approval or perhaps to avoid something unpleasant. Results from Extrinsic Motivation tend to have a short shelf-life as boredom can often set in leaving us motivated only in the short-term.

Intrinsic motivation emanates from within us. It occurs when we engage in an action or activity for our own personal pleasure and fulfilment. Our reward is the act of being personally invested in the pursuit itself not necessarily the outcome. Intrinsic Motivation, in contrast to Extrinsic Motivation, is enduring and enables us to achieve sustainable and rewarding long-term results.

In Kenneth Meyer’s book, Pull Thinking, extrinsic motivations are caused by what he calls Push Thinking which tends to create resistance or reluctance that leaves us with a feeling of being pressured or forced. In contrast, intrinsic motivations are caused by Meyer’s notion of Pull Thinking, which tends to create attraction or influence and leaves us with a feeling of being passionate, inspired, compelled and in-the-zone.

When contemplating sustainable change the secret is to focus on a change that is driven by your Intrinsic Motivation. If however, the motivation is extrinsic then the challenge is to transform it into an intrinsic motivation in order to avoid boredom and change fatigue.

If you are motivated to make an important change try following simple steps to success:

1. Focus on only 1 thing

Something that:

  • Will make a noticeable difference and deliver a positive benefit;
  • You believe is achievable; and
  • Can be progressively measured.

2. Decide when to start

Remember, procrastination is the enemy of change:

  • Remove the barriers to action by thinking of the positive outcome you will achieve;
  • Commit to yourself when you will start; and
  • Write down your simple plan:
    • Your purpose (i.e. your motivation);
    • The benefit it will deliver;
    • The goal (i.e. the one thing); and
  • Leverage your motivation into action.

3. Transforming extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation

Imagine your life in say 3, 6 or 12 months, with and without the change.
Consider the following 2 options:

  • If you implement this change, and it sticks, what will be the benefit for you personally in say 3, 6 or 12 months from now?
  • If you don’t take your commitment seriously enough and give up after a few weeks, what will that mean for you personally in say 3, 6 or 12 months from now?

As an example:

  • If I exercise this often and this intensely:
    • I will likely look and feel great in 12 months from now;
    • I’ll age much more slowly;
    • I’ll be proud of what I achieved; and
    • I’ll have much more energy to keep doing things I want as I get older.
  • If I give in to lethargy and don’t make the effort:
    • My negative thinking wins;
    • The results won’t be attractive;
    • My self-esteem won’t improve; and
    • Failure becomes the norm.

I challenge you to write out a description of both of these options and describe in detail how it will impact your life in 3, 6 or 12 months from now if you do this one thing and what your life would be like if you don’t.

The purpose of actually writing out these two scenarios is to reinforce your intrinsic motivation and it will go a long way toward keeping you on track when tempted to give up.

4. Keep your goal in your mind every day

When you pick only one thing to change and with one objective in mind, you can laser-focus on it and readily suppress tempting distractions from struggling with several changes at the same time. Your excuses will be forced to disappear because you made this promise to yourself to change this one thing.

When you wake up in the morning, think of the one promise to yourself and challenge yourself with the following:

  • When today am I going to do it?
  • How?
  • Where?

And do this every day to keep it at the top of your mind.

5. Once it’s locked in, move on to the next thing

Don’t succumb to the temptation to change multiple things at once thinking that changing only one thing at a time it will take too long for your life to adjust.

Implementing one new practise at a time is the smarter way to go and you will be pleasantly surprised how little time it takes to lock in the change to the point it becomes automatic.

This will be your new normal and you won’t have to think about it or make yourself do it and you will have created the space, time and energy to move onto the next challenge.

With one new adjustment at a time and a simple promise to yourself, you will come alive to a new, simpler path for sustainable, powerful, positive change.

Give ‘change only one thing’ a try – it will naturally increase the odds of your success.

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