When it comes to making changes to our lifestyle, big/ grandiose changes rarely work. Why? Because…big changes cause too much negative reinforcement.
I can already hear you, “What? How can positive lifestyle changes lead to negative reinforcement?” Let me give you a common example. You want to lose a few pounds, so you decide that starting Jan 1st you are starting the grapefruit diet. You will eat nothing but grapefruit for 5 days. You start out strong with a grapefruit for breakfast, at lunch you have another and wash it down with a glass of grapefruit juice. By dinner you are starving….STOP right there! Negative reinforcement alert!!! – you aren’t even a full day into the change and you are experiencing very large amounts of negative reinforcement. You push through it because you are determined….but as day 2 and 3 pass, the negative reinforcement continues to compound exponentially and the positive reinforcement (weight loss), is still minimal. Even though you do have some positive reinforcement (you’ve lost a pound or 2), it just doesn’t compare to the amount of negative you are experiencing…so you give up. In this case, it’s a good thing….because the grapefruit diet is an unhealthy activity anyway. But you understand my point, right?
When it comes to making long lasting positive changes, most people have a much better success rate if they can keep the negative reinforcement low. We do this by making very small changes toward our larger goals.
So back to our example…if I’m looking to lose weight, I might start by looking at my diet. But rather than trying a complete diet overhaul, I will choose to make just 1 or 2 small changes. I might decide to eat oatmeal for breakfast instead of eggs and sausage, or I may replace my afternoon soda with a cup of tea. By making these smaller changes, I only get small positive changes, but I will also limit the negative reinforcement, because my small changes are rather painless.
One other thing to consider when implementing change; what is the feeling that you are looking to attain by attaining your goal. Am I looking to lose weight so I feel more attractive? Then I should look for other ways I can create my own positive reinforcement by creating that feeling. Maybe I only wear my favorite clothes, or I do my hair and makeup every day so I always feel attractive.
This combination of creating positive feelings while limiting negative reinforcement is the key to long lasting, changes. Start small, then very slowly make more and more positive changes…the changes will slowly build momentum until you successfully meet your goal!
Tracy Martorana is a Nutrition & Wellness Consultant, Meditation Instructor and Herbalist...hoping to inspire you to live your life from a place of Holistic Wellness.