In my previous article, I mentioned that there are three big reasons why resolutions fail, why we make goals, create daily steps to follow, and at times, don’t do it. Some have called this “Knowing what to do, but not doing what we know.”
I mentioned in that article that Ecology is a big reason for many. Sometimes we want to introduce a new behavior that, while we may desire it and believe it will be good for us, would introduce conflict into other parts of our lives. Perhaps parts that, without the change, are doing well, or at least well enough that we’d rather leave them alone.
In approaching a new year, we might be thinking about making a New Year’s Resolution. That’s why in this second part, we’re going to look at the second reason we often resist change. If we’re striving to commit to doing something we don’t enjoy, we’re unlikely to follow through. Most resolutions are relatively long-term goals, things we can’t simply decide, take the action, and quickly see the outcome. That means committing to a regular task or behavior choice that you don’t enjoy. Behaviorists would say that you associate more pain than pleasure to the daily, regular actions. And if there’s one thing we all know about humans is that we will avoid, procrastinate, flee from pain and run toward pleasure. Well, most of us…no judgments!
We’ve mentioned three reasons New Year’s Resolutions, and structurally speaking, any long-term commitments don’t succeed. Today we’re playing with the second.
- The change isn’t ecological
- Associating more pain than pleasure to the change
- Our focus is on the little picture when we are more goal-oriented and “big-picture” focused.
A classic example of the second is beginning an exercise regimen. Fitness offers us so many benefits that we might think everyone would value exercise. Though what if someone associates pain or exhaustion with that exercise? How likely are they to choose it when other options are available? For many of us, the answer is “not likely at all.” Bullying ourselves with mantras like “no pain, no gain,” might sound great to our conscious minds. But our subconscious minds don’t tend to be receptive to such tactics. Which means that all the “willpower,” which exists solely as a conscious force, will hold little sway over our subconscious minds. In nearly every situation, the subconscious will make the decision.
When the resistance comes from failed ecology, the simplest solution is to negotiate that ecology–looking for a way to accomplish the same outcome in a more ecological way. In Part 1, we used the example of using Assertiveness training to teach us that flexibility–the ability to be assertive where appropriate. But adjusting it where it’s less so. Or even, rather than true Assertiveness, choosing a more ecological means of protecting boundaries, speaking up where needed, and so on. Your own situation will dictate how.
But what about where we associate more pain than pleasure to the change? In some ways, this is easier to contend with. After all, NLP offers a large number of techniques for changing how we feel about something. Though even simpler, we can explore the positive, pleasurable aspects of the change. Using the exercise regimen, we could decide that it’s not something as blunt as “no pain, no gain,” but rather flexing our muscles, getting our blood pumping, training our heart, and so on. We can focus on. the exhilaration of a bike ride, a swim, or weight lifting. There’s additional reinforcement for these behaviors as our bodies respond to the work we do. As we begin to fit better in our clothes, admire the changes in our bodies, the pleasure of doing the work, making the change, becomes more real for us. Since our emphasis here is on gaining something, in this case a good feeling, better health, etc., NLP calls this a “moving-toward” metaprogram. That is, our motivation to make. the change and follow through is driven by what we will gain by doing so. By focusing on what we are moving toward, what we will get, we are less affected by the physical challenge of the exercise itself.
Though that’s not the only possibility. Since we’re talking about something that may be exerting, physically demanding, we might view that as ‘pain.” If we tend to use more of a “moving-toward” metaprogram, we would need to increase our perception of the pleasure that exercise session will give us.
However there’s another side to that. Let’s say that you using a “moving-away-from” metaprogram. Some people dislike this, thinking it sounds negative. But it’s not as important which you most organically use. You can always add in the other piece as you like. What matters is that you know what will work easiest for you. That because change is easiest when done with ease. It’s more graceful and successful when we begin with what we like best. Moving-away-from is exactly what it sounds like. We are more apt to make a change when it avoids pain. This is of course relative as the old expression “lesser of two evils” suggests. Sometimes we experience a choice between two undesirable options. Our natural tendency is to choose the one that’s least so. If you find that this describes you as your primary metaprogram, then use it. You can focus on how unhealthy, how tired. and stressed you will feel if you don’t exercise. Even if you don’t enjoy the exercise itself, you can create more or worse pain (depending on how you quantify pain) and associate that feeling with not exercising. If you do this with enough energy, you may feel a strong compulsion to avoid that awful feeling of not exercising.
Remember, neither is good or bad, but merely a starting point. We begin with what works best for us now. Then we can cross over into the other side of it, creating what Richard Bandler called a “propulsion system”–both a push away from and a pull toward–simultaneously.
Consider a change you’d like to make. What’s keeping you from it? Do you feel the pull of the pleasure? If so, to what do you attach more pleasure–making the change or staying the same? If pleasure isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, do you feel the influence of the pain involved? If so, to what do you associate more pain–making the change or staying the same? If you really want that change, the resistance is easy to overcome once you focus your attention in a way that better drives you–whether it’s a pull toward pleasure or avoidance of pain. It’s your mind, use it!
Copyright © 2022 Chris Gingolph