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Preface to “Change! – Use habits to effortless improve your life.” (Version 0.1)

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I am writing a book (together with Behavioral Change Specialist Judith Martens from behavior-change.net) about how to change effortless, using habits to shape your behaviour without the need of (an enourmous amount of) motivation.

I was writing some chapters, when I realized that I needed to see the preface to really set my focus on how I was going to fill the different steps.

The final preface might look very different – but this piece will give me inner focus. It’s not to the point yet – but you still might enjoy reading it. I am happy if you leave your questions and ideas in the comment section below.

Preface to “Change! – Use habits to effortless improve your life.”

The only constant in life is change – Heraclitus.

Therefore in order to be happy and live our life’s purpose to the fullest – we must constantly adapt to the change around us. Like a ship in stormy sea, we constantly need to reevaluate our position and adjust the bearing in order to reach our goal.

Change is not a smooth transition, but a sudden switch to a new mode. Once we start walking, we keep on walking. If you learn how to ride a bike without falling down you don’t need to relearn it every time you step on it.

Conscious thinking often is too slow and ineffective in order to cope with the speed of life. 99,9% of all out behavior happens automatically, without taking precious computing space in the “I am thinking about it and making a decision department” of your brain. It just happens. Imagine a pianist thinking about every next note to play or a tennis player making a conscious decision on how to hit the next ball. Or you ducking away, when the tennis player hit the ball in the direction of your head.

By putting together long patterns of such automatic behavior we can perform complex task on autopilot. Do you put “brushing my teeth” in your agenda right after “eating breakfast”? How aware are you of all steps involved in “unpacking the dishwasher”?

We are also “creatures of habit” (654.000 hits in Google.com)

Habits allow us perform benign to complex behavior without using our conscious thinking, therefore saving up precious resources.

However, the nature of habits also presents us with a challenge, whenever we want to consciously recreate the way we do things. Without the right tools it can be hard to kick bad habits like smoking or snacking away while watching TV (or stop watching TV all together).

As of August 2013, amazon.com lists 117600 books in the self help section. 1574 of which have been released in the last 30 days. Obviously there are many that feel the need to change their thought, emotions and behavior. But “creatures of habit” we are, that attempt is futile on a huge number of attempts. Often there seems to be a hidden force holding us back to accept the new behavioral reality of the choices that we have made. And even if we manage to fight our automatic behavior inclination, we often slip back to “autopilot mode” after some time. Creatures of habit we are. Truly.

Most of the self help books tell you why you should change your thoughts, emotions and behaviors and what is the perfect state of thinking, feeling, being. Some try to tell you how to do it. Some are successful. Most are not.

The principle that is mostly used to help you through that change is motivation. The fairy tale is that if you are just motivated enough, change will come easily. Most people realize every february of the year that the story is somewhat more difficult: When they look back on the new years resolutions for radical (or small) change, they made a few weeks ago.

Motivation needs attention. It needs mental resources. It needs you to be aware of your thoughts, emotions and behavior and to constantly monitor the level of motivation. Once you fall under a specific threshold, you need to put in energy. Constantly.

It takes about 30 days to make  new behavioral patterns stick. Motivation often only lasts a few days. And with every exception you grant yourself, it becomes more and more unlikely that you will change successfully – eventually.

There are two organizations that have perfected system to help people change, that are robust against the lack of motivation, we all encounter along the road. I am talking about the AA (anonymous Alcoholics) and the Weight Watchers.

The core of both systems is that they do not rely on motivation, but they help you to build very robust habits, that are incompatible with the old behavior. For this they employ a simple, but very effective system of behavioral shaping and social psychological effects.

This book is not a scientific article. It is the collection of what we have learned in our studies (behavioral science and behavioral change) and our own experience in applying those (proven to be effective) principles to our own life.

It’s a collection of the advice we gave to our family, friends and clients, that came to us for support in changing something in their life, in order to increase health and happiness.

During this process we will often ask you to do things that seem silly or futile. It is vitally important that you do not skip those steps, but that you perform them as if your life would depend on it (maybe it actually does!). The strategy we employ for change is not directed to the part of you brain that has a concept of what is to be considered silly or not (the same part that is able to self-talk and nagging you about it), but the older part of your brain, that is responsible for the 99,9% of (automatic) behavior. That part, that calls the shot most of the time. That part, that will resist most of the change those self-help books try to motivate you for.

We consider this book a tool. A tool to give you the power to change your life – one habit at a time – on the most effective and energy-efficient way there is.

After you have grasped the full power of this concept you are welcome to change and mold it in a way that you feel suits you best. But be warned. We advise you to first complete at least one cycle of habit change in EXACTLY the way we propose.

Right from the start we wanted to make a DO-IT, not a UNDERSTAND-IT book. This is why we mostly touch on the subject of neurological change only very briefly during this book. If you want to know more about it, grab a book about biological psychology. Just to be clear: Every step in this book, in this system, is geared towards bringing about neurological change: To rewire your brain – in the most elegant and effective way possible.

As most brilliant concepts, we did not invent the idea of using habits to improve your life. It’s a universal constant that has been rediscovered by bright thinkers in every generation. We have merely taken the abstract idea and put it into a system that will require a minimum of time, motivation and energy.

As we stand on the “shoulders of giants” (Newton), let me close this plea for (re)taking control of your own destiny with the words of one of our greatest inspiration, the psychology WIlliam James (Habit, 1890)

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.

Welcome to the key for effortless and lasting change.

Welcome to the system.

Welcome to the power of habits.

May this book guide you to live the life that you deserve

August 2013

Judith & Martin

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