Change is hard


I am wearing a band on my left wrist that counts the steps I take. It also signals me that I have been sitting on my chair too long, and it’s time for me to stand up and do some stretching what a fantastic device. The question is, do I need it? Not really. I continue to sit on my chair and bang my fingers on the keyboard. My mind provides a quick justification, “I have to finish this material for my column and my radio segment.”

Let me challenge you to do things differently. Suppose you are a right-hander, change your hands and pick up your coffee cup with your left hand instead of the traditional right. Brush your teeth using your left hand. Instead of pulling on your trousers, jeans or pants, left leg first instead of your right or vice-versa? These practices and experiments may sound simple, but it is a lot more complicated than it sounds. When it comes to the necessary changes brought upon us by COVID-19, we need to adapt to a massive lifestyle change that goes way beyond our grooming and dressing metaphor.

Research had indicated that subjects in their studies required 66 days of deliberately repeating the behavior on average with a range from 18 to 254 days before the change in routine became a habit and achieve 95 percent automaticity. Adopting a change into your daily routine isn’t hard because you’re lazy. Change, by its very nature, is complex and challenging.

In a 1998 study, social scientist Roy Baumeister demonstrated that laziness correlates with exhaustion. He invited two sets of students into a lab and, on a table, offered two bowls. The first bowl contained freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, while the other bowl contained radishes. One group to eat the cookies but leave the radishes alone. The other group was to eat the radishes and refuse to eat the cookies. The researchers left the lab. They were expecting and hoping that the test subjects would be tempted to cheat; they would sneak in a few bites of the delicious cookies than endure the tasteless radishes. None of the subjects failed the test.

The researchers next asked the subjects to solve a logic puzzle. Unknown to them, the task was designed to be impossible to solve. The researchers wanted to see how long the test subjects would work on it before they gave up. The cookie eaters tried and tried to solve the puzzle for an average of 19 minutes. The radish eaters, on the other hand, persisted for just eight minutes. So why is there such a huge discrepancy? Baumeister concluded that the radish eaters resisting those delicious cookies had used up their reserves of self-control or willpower.

Monitoring our self behavior is exhausting. This would explain why we are most likely to snap at our partners when we are exhausted the whole day. It also explains why people are at their most vulnerable state when they are at the lowest point wherein self-control and willpower are empty. It also shows how difficult it is to handle multiple challenges at the same time.

COVID-19 has pushed us to engage in multiple changes. From in-person communications to virtual. We are locked down in our homes for what seems like an eternity. We now have entered the new norm of washing hands, temperature check, swabbing ourselves with alcohol, and all the revised ways of eating, exercising, learning new things to adapt to the new environment, so who would not be exhausted?

The good news is that if I stick to doing the new tasks consciously, get enough sleep and rest, stick to a routine, I have been doing these new things for more than 254 days now such that the “new tasks” are now part of my unconscious competence. That is how change works. It has to be intentional; it has to have an environment of support, and the actions have to be consistent throughout. Self-control without proper rest and recovery would make change difficult.

My wrist device just reminded me to stand up and to stretch, and I will do so in just a few minutes after I finish this material. I know that it’s a great idea, guaranteed to keep in mind alert and body healthy. But I still have to be consistent with this action, and maybe a few more days doing it would convert this into a habit. But why do I suddenly have an urge to have a piece of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?



(Francis Kong’s highly acclaimed Level Up Leadership Master Class Online runs this August 3-5. Develop your leadership skills that translate into personal, career, and business growth. For inquiries and reservations, contact April at +63928-559-1798 or and for more information, visit www.levelupleadership.ph)

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