Change is hard. Who doesn’t enjoy settling into a comfortable routine? However, when a person is finally motivated to break their mold and strive for self-improvement, the shackles of our habits can be debilitating.
It is for that reason that I look forward to the Jewish High Holidays, which give me an opportunity to look at my habits – both good and bad take a personal inventory of how I can improve.
However, beware the trap of the negative space!
When a person digs deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the parts of themselves they wish to change, they will eventually be left with a gaping hole. For example, if a person decides to reduce their laziness and increase productivity, they may find themselves successfully cutting out TV, movies, Facebook and other distractions. However, if they are not filling that extra time by focusing on meaningful tasks and goals, they will likely fail altogether when the boredom takes hold and catapults them back to their previous ways.
To illustrate this phenomenon, imagine your dentist discovers a pretty nasty cavity in your molar. After drilling, scraping and hollowing out the tooth, the dentist proudly reports that the cavity is gone. However, let’s be honest, until the hole in your tooth is properly filled, you’re just not out of the woods.
The same idea applies to self-improvement. It is insufficient to simply cut out the negative behaviors if we do not replace them with positive ones.
Consider how many intelligent and determined people have failed at diets for this reason. They decided it was time to get healthy, banished all fried foods, butter, trans fats, red meat, eggs, salt, sugar, mayo and of course, ice cream. Yes, they had the right idea, “cut out all of the bad stuff”. However, if there is no an alternate plan to substitute healthy menus for every meal, they will likely crash and burn when hunger gets the best of them.
Research on addiction has pointed to the same conclusion. People who wish to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography, overeating – all have the same challenge. They will put 90% of their self-control and energies towards NOT engaging in a particular behavior. However, instead of only focusing on the negative, if they were to also expend a great deal of energy pursuing positive behaviors, they would more likely succeed simply because they are busy chasing their dreams and ambitions.
It is for this reason that Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, put such an emphasis on the many levels of personal growth beyond just the value of “quitting”. By discovering and pursuing one’s spiritual self, a person is more likely to engage in meaningful relationships and seek life-goals that are inherently motivating, fulfilling and rewarding.
Sure, becoming a better person can be a huge undertaking! However, if overcoming my challenges compel me to focus positively on my dreams, then my weaknesses actually become the greatest of life's gifts! (Think about it).