In Part I of Change is Easy. Change is Hard. you were introduced to the Four Phases of Learning model which helps explain why change so difficult. Moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence, or using our metaphor, going from not even knowing that Europeans drive differently than we do to learning how to drive on the left-hand side of the road without conscious thought, takes longer and is more uncomfortable than one would wish.
The Emotional You
Let’s zoom in to see what exactly is going on in our brains as we move through these phases of change. To begin, let me introduce two different parts of your brain and the functions they serve. Don’t worry. This won’t get too technical, and it will really help you understand and create the lasting change you want.
The first part of the brain we want to consider is the prefrontal cortex. This small region of the brain helps you plan, set goals, solve problems, think creatively, control your impulses and more. The all-important prefrontal cortex also contains your working memory and is used for learning new activities. It’s essential, but it is also an energy hog, fatigues easily and can only think about a very limited number of elements at any one time.
The Rational You
Another part of the brain that plays a big part in change is a set of structures known as the basal ganglia. They function beneath your conscious awareness and control any habitual, routine activity. Unlike the prefrontal cortex the basal ganglia are highly energy efficient and run almost on autopilot.
Thus, anytime you begin learning a new skill, processing new information or changing a long-term habit the activity is all taking place in the prefrontal cortex. This requires a lot of attention, focus and energy, thus your brain power will be limited for other activities. You’ll have to concentrate and think about what you are doing each and every time. Change is hard work.
However, as you continue practicing your new behaviors, with each repitition, you are strengthening your new thought or action and getting closer to establishing a new habit. Once it becomes familiar, the new routine will be controlled by the basal ganglia and it will become an almost effortless part of your routine.
Take Every Thought Captive
The key point to remember is that with every single thought and action you are either strengthening your old habit or actively building the new.
This is why change is easy, because it can’t and shouldn’t be dealt with as a huge, multi-faceted, complex thing. It is a simple, moment by moment, decision taken one day at a time.
Robert Pagilarini has successfully used and taught others these facts with what he calls the One Day, One Week, One Month Strategy.
One Day – Whether it’s an entire book you want to write or 50 pounds you want to lose, there is no need to get discouraged or overwhelmed. The only thing you need to focus on is one day. Today. That’s it. You can stick with your diet for one day, can’t you? Sure. You’ve done it before. That’s all this change requires. Just one day.
One Week – Once you conquer that first day, all you need to do is make it one more day. For six simple days. You can do that for one week. You can do anything for one week. How do you know? Because you’ve already demonstrated that you can by making it for one day.
One Month – Now you’ve entered that uncomfortable conscious incompetence zone. The change seems harder and more painful than you thought it would be. It’s tempting to settle for mediocrity and incompetence. But you’ve already made it through a whole week. You’ve built new neural pathways, and your brain is one week closer to habituating your new behavior. Soon you will be able to execute it with nary a thought. It is worth it, and you can at least hang in there for one short month.
And on it goes.
If perchance you slip up and blow your plan, that’s okay, because tomorrow morning all you need to do is to wake up and concentrate on getting through that one day.
Change is easy (or at least easier), when you take it one day at a time knowing that it really will get easier as you move down the competence road.
Let us not lose heart in doing good,
for in due time we will reap
if we do not grow weary.