Amy Peach

Director of Instructional Technology, Fontbonne University, St Louis, MO USA

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How do you sustain a change for the better?

In the information age, there is no shortage of great advice. We know how to live longer, be happier, be healthier, be more successful. Problem is, we sometimes forget these lessons. We lose weight and find we're dieting again in five years. We know how to let little things go and a few months down the road something triggers the beast and we're defensive again. If we know what we're supposed to do, how do we sustain that behavior over the long haul? (or can we?)

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    Feb 14 2014: I have done many life style changes over the past few years, and been able to sustain them. Although will-power is important, it is only of many tricks that can be used to sustain a healthy change.

    For me taking just a few small steps at a time works; for example instead of doing a complete diet change, start by switching from cow’s milk to almond milk, switch white potatoes to sweet potatoes, and reduce your soda intake. This way if you fail with one switch you still feel healthier because of the switches you could sustain. And that will help to try another switch, and although it may take years you can have lasting complete change in your life style. (I highly recommend swapping sugars for spices; they taste better and are fun to experiment with, and get them through an online place like Penzeys they are much cheaper and of better quality)

    Learn to embrace hardships and fears and see them as puzzles to be solved, not as bad luck, punishments, or out of your control. My older sister died from a pulmonary embolism, after setting to long and standup a blood clot traveled to her lung and exploded. I tell most it was from fear but I think her heavenly spirit guided me, to switch to a stand-up desk a few months ago. And wow!
    What a difference, not only is the risk of blood clot reduced, so is my spire-tire. And I’m more alerts, have more of a six-pack then a tub of jelly, ;) have much better posture, and more.
    I have found solving such puzzles to have more rewards then first expected, including spiritual growth.

    FYI: I recommend stand-up desk being about an inch below elbow height and get a drafting style stool for switch back and forth between standing and sitting.
    • Feb 14 2014: Don,

      Liked the idea of embracing circumstantial challenges as puzzles to be solved... and the idea of a stand up desk...

      The story one uses to describe what happens may not actually change what happened but it may change what happens next ... as one chooses to do this rather than that!
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    Feb 14 2014: There is some interesting research done into this - how to change our behaviour and adopt new patterns. A couple of scientists talk about it at great length on the below radio programme in the context of New Years revolutions. Of particular interest is how long it takes for someone to form a habit - the research showed that it varied hugely from person to person. Some people took over a year to form one, whilst others took less than a week! I feel I fit into the former bracket :-S

    http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/naked-scientists/show/20140114-1/

    As to sustaining behaviour, they offer some good advice in this too. I find writing down goals really helpful and some sort of scheme were I can see how many days I've done it for.
  • Feb 14 2014: In "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" by Chip Heath makes an interesting appeal that in essence has to do with observing bright spots, repeating bright spots, creating bright habits... which may involve the actual transformation of the system circumstances and individuals. From an amazon review:

    The book is structured into three sections, each one suggesting specific behaviors you can follow:

    I. Direct the Rider:
    - Find the bright spots
    - Script the critical moves
    - Point to the destination

    II. Motivate the Elephant:
    - Find the feeling
    - Shrink the Change;
    - Grow your people

    III. Shape the Path:
    - Tweak the environment
    - Build habits
    - Rally the herd
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    Feb 14 2014: Hello Amy,
    Really good question. And one investigated by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. I recommend their book "Living Deeply" which summarises their decade-long study on the subject, (I read it recently over Christmas).
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    Feb 14 2014: We can sustain our positive behaviours and often do. It usually requires some clarity of vision and relentless will power, and some early success and some measurable improvement will help sustain the endeavour.

    Remain focused on your goal and watch your back (or whatever your area of concern might be).
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      Feb 14 2014: Early Success! That's what really stood out here. I didn't realize until just now that the times I've successfully changed my behavior I always experienced some for of early success.
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    Feb 14 2014: Hi Amy....nice to connect with you again:>)

    There are a couple good ideas on this thread already....have a substitute activity, food or drink that you like and is healthier.....reducing the mind chatter that says we NEED the activity, food, drink, etc. that is habitual... realize WHY we may be attached to something that may not be good for us.

    It comes down to "KNOW THYSELF" and that includes knowing why we make certain choices. Your example is...
    "we lose weight and find we're dieting again in five years". That cycle is very common in our world.

    You also say..."We know how to let little things go and a few months down the road something triggers the beast and we're defensive again."

    Who is the beast? What is triggered? What is there to be defensive about?

    The repeated cycle of gaining and losing weight with dieting (or probably any other habit or addiction), often demonstrates that a person has not fully changed the underlying cause for the habit/addiction, and the habit/addiction is still feeding some emotional need...otherwise, they would let go of the habit. I believe we hold onto a habit, as long as it continues to create an illusion of contentment in some way.

    When we know our "self", know what/who the "beast" in our "self" is, know what triggers the need for the habit, and know what we are defending, there may be a chance to change the habit with accurate information. There are usually several factors, and if we do not know ourselves and know what those interconnecting factors are, it is more difficult to change a behavior.

    One underlying question is.....am I worth it? Is it genuinely worth it to myself to take the steps which will create more good health and balance in my life?
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      Feb 14 2014: Great to see you too, Colleen! It's been busy around here so I haven't had much time to connect until now. These were just two examples I was throwing out. I heard a friend call defensiveness a "beast" and I thought it was a good description of how i felt when I was being defensive. I love your idea that the habit/addiction is still feeding an emotional need. There are specific things I know I need to work on, but I also work with pre-service teachers and I ask them to carefully consider their own flaws throughout their program as well. If we don't have self-awareness, how will we ever help students build it in themselves? "Am I worth it" is a great question. I think I'll pose that the next time we meet :)
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        Feb 14 2014: Good point Amy....to perceive defensiveness as a "beast".....when we are trying to defend ourselves, the process can indeed become beastly!

        It may help to ask the question....what are we trying to defend, and why are we trying to defend it. Perhaps we are trying to defend that emotional need?

        I totally agree....if we do not have self awareness, it is difficult to try to build that in students. Modeling is the best teacher in my perception, and it is difficult to model something that we have not embraced in our "self".

        We are like mirrors reflecting back and forth to each other and to ourselves all the time. When our mirror is clear, the reflection that comes back to us, and the reflection we give out to the world is consistent and more clear as well. When we know our self (have self-awareness as you insightfully say), our mirror reflection and modeling behaviors are clear and consistent.
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    Feb 14 2014: I think this depends greatly on what the behavior is. For example, when a person quits a bad habit, it is helpful to have something in its place that met many of the same needs as the original. A person who wants to stop drinking soft drinks, for example, might benefit from a substitute beverage he makes sure is always in his refrigerator and can be poured when he used to drink a soft drink. It helps to have a routine in place that makes the substitution automatic.
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    Feb 14 2014: The corollary to how you make it worse, which is elect a democrat.
  • Feb 14 2014: I think we can sustain a change for the better if:
    we put goals to our life like this we will be know what we need in this life and where we will go (I mean that we should know the starting point and endpoint). But the important thing, as we know that any point they have many ways to lead;
    So how do we choose the right path? and what we need to choose this right path?
    We need the childhood spirit the Pure soul filled with hope and everyone want the right path he need part of her childhood spirit (we should not kill our childhood spirit and keep part of it).
    Another important thing is the love of people we need to love all the people in this world and give him your smile all the time (for me this people is my Big family and this world is my big home).
    Finally I will say HOPE...HOPE... HOPE... and never give up.

    "Be Optimistic better you will find better"
  • Feb 14 2014: Vigilance and Principles, a lifetime journey into self.
  • Feb 14 2014: There is a tendency for human beings to do the minimum required. In order to persist in a given task there are several options available, one is internal passion which is capable of driving a person to great heights, a second is need e.g. a desperate need to stay alive and a third is a constant reawakening of yourself to give the best. This last one is the most difficult but also the one that truly lasts.
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    Feb 14 2014: As Amy said “we sometimes forget these lessons” and to that, I’m wondering if anyone keeps a log, or have a poster or some other daily reminder?

    And I like to thank Amy, below I posted some of my favorite TED talk and that got me to view them again. And for reminder of those lessons I’m thankful.
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    Feb 14 2014: probably different issues are involved in sustaining different kinds of change. Personally I think one could take the attitude that one is occasionally going to fail to follow one's commitment but one will get back to as soon as possible. I don't love this metaphor, but they say if the horse bucks you off, you dust off your chaps, get back on, and try again?
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    Feb 14 2014: amy, did you only really want four more hours on this? Click "edit" to add more time.
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      Feb 14 2014: I agree, I’m interested in seeing where this conversation leads and getting some more useful tips for sustain positive change would be sweet. :)
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    Feb 14 2014: I think Jane McGonigal would suggest gaming, and also make the desired change a game.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html

    Don’t see it as a change to be a little better, go for the Epic Win! Be SuperBetter! Be a superhero and call on your fellow superheroes to aid your Epic Battle.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life.html

    And if gaming is not your cup of tea, Vanine Shepherd, should give you some inspiration.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_shepherd_a_broken_body_isn_t_a_broken_person.html
  • Feb 14 2014: I believe that anything that we do with a selfish motive will make us defensive. The more we accumulate for ourselves, the more we feel we have to protect, the more we worry about the small things and so on... Maybe one way to work on this is to help people without expecting anything in return from them. In this way, our actions will be of an ego-less origin, and we will have less to protect and more to give.

    Another thing I think we can work on is reducing the amount of habitual craving and aversion that goes on in our minds and our bodies. Everything that we process through our 6 senses (the sixth sense being thought) is communicating with our body. there are millions of sensations going on in the body at any given moment, some pleasant, some painful. whether our minds are concentrated and aware enough to feel them all is different from person to person. The challenge is to stop creating aversion towards the painful sensations and stop creating craving for the pleasant sensations. If we can stop this constant attachment to craving and aversion at the deepest level we know (sensations), then we can achieve a balanced mind.

    It is hard work, but hard work worth working for. If we understand these practices for a more balanced and peaceful mind, then the question is whether we want to keep working to feed our personal cravings, or work towards a more balanced and harmonious life.

    That is how I see it anyways
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      Feb 14 2014: These are very interesting points, Brian. The idea of sustaining any good habit over time is what I wanted to explore through the examples, but the issue of defensiveness is a personal weakness. A good 90% of the time, I work with absolutely no expectation of anything in return. I truly do believe the work itself is its own reward. Where I get into trouble is not when the efforts go unrecognized, but when others are not taking responsibility for themselves and attempt to blame me for that. I need to point out where others should be contributing to their own development, but also need to find a way to phrase it so that it becomes clear that a team effort and more effective communication is the only way out of any given situation.
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    Feb 14 2014: .
    It is easy if one knows what the invalid happiness is.