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Framing change

Changing our behaviours is one of the hardest things that we do, and often fail at. We often don't like some of our own habits and behaviours that we'd like to change. As the popular saying goes, if knowledge was all it took, everyone would have perfect abs and millions of dollars in their bank accounts.

Clearly, there is something more to bringing about change than simply gaining the knowledge that we ought to bring about said change.

Some of the things that people tell me they want to change when I ask them are - they want to stop eating junk food, they want to stop spending a lot of time on social media, they want to stop thinking about work on weekends, they want to stop going out often, they want to stop spending money on impulsive purchases that they regret later on, etc.

I used to look at change in this manner as well. It is very easy for us to look at the habits that are not resulting in positive outcomes for us, or are preventing us from doing other things that could result in positive outcomes, and tell ourselves that we ought to stop doing these things.

Whenever I've looked at change in this manner, and framed it in this way - I have to stop doing X because it isn't leading to positive outcomes - I have not been very successful in bringing about that change.

This is because it takes a lot of willpower to constantly ignore the ever-present stimulants that are trying their hardest to drag us down into taking the actions that we are telling ourselves to stay away from. And willpower is a finite resource that depletes over time and is affected by other things that happen in our day to day lives. When it is low, we succumb to the stimulants.

But I've had a lot more success when I've reframed the change I'm trying to bring about. Rather than saying I want to stop eating junk food, I tell myself I'm the kind of person that eats healthy. Rather than saying I want to stop spending a lot of time on social media, I tell myself I want to read a book a week, and write a blog post a day, thus reframing the situation in a way that leaves me skipping social media to spend that time reading and writing because that's my goal now.

Of course, this still leaves me eating junk food occasionally or spending time on social media when I haven't yet published my blog post for the day or read a book. But the odds of this happening are so much lower than when I was framing the changes in a negative manner that needed me to dig into my limited resource of willpower.

A change in perspective can take us a long way.

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