Sunday, 19 August 2012

Trying to sort your life out? It's best to go one step at a time.

You've finally decided it's time to take the plunge and sort your life out, give up the booze, the fags, start eating healthily, exercise , look for a new job, take up the piano, read some classics and build up the gumption to ask the pretty girl at work to spend a bit of time with you out of work.

In a few months time you imagine your body honed to perfection, a chiselled six pack adorning your midriff, your diet is now so healthy your bowel movements emerge fragrant enough to resell to trendy urbanites as organic room freshener.  You've really taken to the piano too, now shyly agreeing at parties to perform a little Gershwin to an adoring audience. An audience in which the girl from work stands, now stunning in a knee length black satin dress, adoring your every move with that glint in her eyes that tells you that once she gets you home you two are going to continue where you left of this morning, wrapped in a tantric embrace. All this will be yours, it as simple as eating the celery, going to the gym and learning some scales. 

It is no surprise however to find that the majority of such life changing aims fail, most people are fat, do too little exercise and are poor musicians.  But Why, and what can we do if we do want to make all these changes.

Well, the first thing worth mentioning is that the more we try to do the more difficult it is.  Firstly, because when we fail at doing one thing (i.e. not going for a run on Thursday morning) we are far more likely to give up on everything we are aiming to do.  Secondly, willpower depletes. In other words the more times you have to exert self control the harder and harder it becomes.  This is known as Ego Depletion. Interestingly, although not strictly relevant, exercising self control also makes you more likely to lie and take risks.

So when we take on many different challenges at the same time (get fit, eat healthy, learn an instrument, become a sexual dynamo etc) failure at one makes us far more likely to give up on all of them and, possible even worse passing on dessert at dinner makes it harder to sit down and learn those all important piano scales.

It seems all very negative, and to be honest it doesn't take Albert Einstein to work out that these ventures usually fail. Why? Because they aim to do too many things at once and people give themselves unrealistic ambitions.  It is likely that if you've spent the last 10 years living like a slob that in the next 6 months you are going to drastically become un slob like.  In reality what you can hope for is a gradual process to become less slobish. 

So the answer may well be, attempt to do one thing at a time, remind yourself that one little slip up doesn't mean that the whole project is not worthwhile. So say just start with the healthy eating, one day a week, keep track of this.

In modern times everyone wants a quick fix; however it seems that such an attempted quick fix may scupper your chances of long term change for the better.


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