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Change is bliss?

Negative thoughts, diet, locked-in routines at work or biting your nails. Everyone has habits we would like to change. Old habits can die hard, even when there is motivation to change them. To find the way to long term change it is important to understand the mechanisms behind such change.

Humans have evolutionally always had a natural resistance to change. When we have found the way to do things, we have a tendency to continue in the same track we have always gone, even though it might be the most optimal. This is connected to our need to know the consequences of what we do. Certainty makes us feel secure, and security allows us to relax, lean back and be comfortable with the situation. This is why it is easy to continue with old habits and accept living with a little bit of uncomfortableness long after the result is certain. The following excerpt from a guidance conversation is an example of this: “I am living well with my anxiety. I have done it for so long now that I know exactly what it is. As long as I am not going to die from it, it will be fine.”

Another explanation is neurologically determined. Our senses, movements, thoughts, memories, and feelings which form our behavior, are a result of neurons in our brain which create connections and send signals to each other. The signals will be weaker the first time you do something new, but they become automatic when we repeat the activity over a long period of time. This is an important function that makes life easier to live as we are able to use less energy to think through everything we experience and do during a day. Change demands more of us in terms of physical and mental energy.

A third explanation is connected to our own mindset where we usually have a pre-determined anticipation about the outcome of a change. Earlier this summer I had a discussion with a friend who warned me against thinking that not all talents can be learned or changed because a large part of our personality originates from our genes. I agree that there are some talents that come more easily than others, but change of habits is something that everyone can achieve. It does not have to be so difficult as long as you are interested in change and you have the knowledge about how you can make it happen. Many of us create our own limits and thereby reduce the chances for succeeding. The good news is that for the time being our mindset is learned and because of that it can be learned again and again.

It is important to understand these mechanisms if you want to be able to change old habits and routines. It is the very nature of a human being to be in a state of development and learning. Many people think it is boring and uninspiring to do exactly the same thing over and over again. By walking in old, familiar and well-worn paths you know exactly what you will get. For some people that is a good thing, they are happy and don’t feel the need for anything else. Others want to break with their unyielding patterns and learn something new which gives other perspective and new experiences. To be able to do this, you should make conscious decisions and changes which are important for yourself and your surroundings. When you have found out which habits you want to make disappear, you can follow this technique:

·       Replace an old habit with what you want to achieve (use the positive psychology approach which focuses on a description of the problem as being solved). It is important to want something that really means something to you. The positive benefits are larger than the effort you need to put in to reaching your goals. Motivation will be needed in able to manage setbacks.

·       Will power alone is seldom enough to be able to achieve long term changes. Therefore, you need a concrete plan which describes how you will make your goals happen. The first step is to gain the necessary knowledge: look on the internet, talk to others about how to get help. Take on an open and curious attitude to the journey you are starting and decide that you will be learning oriented on the way towards your goal.

·       Prepare yourself mentally for hard, goal oriented work and a good portion of patience. Your old habits will be replaced, but it demands repetition in order for the brain to create new patterns which are more dominating than the old ones. Reward yourself through all the big and small steps you make. This will motivate you and enable you to increase effort and endurance

In both the private and the public sector, changing processes are a necessary part of daily activities. Customer expectations are on the rise, competition is tougher, and technology is advancing at a furious pace. Everything that creates some level of certainty is better for passengers in a changing process, which creates a need for good leaders that offer information often and ensure good communication in the organization. It is important that the involved parts are recognized, listened to, and appreciated. Employees need to use their best strengths and resources when they are met with a challenge. The work place should provide the opportunity for mental training and needs to dedicate time to building a culture of common opinions and values about the change. This will allow us to manage uncertainty in a constructive manner. 

There is a large competitive advantage to a smooth running organization which can change in tact with the framework and conditions of the organization. An organization which is well prepared to make the changes needed, produce excellent results and a secure working environment. If the organization will be undergoing change and development, it is beneficial that the individual is also capable of making change. Make a change!

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