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The Reason You’re Not Changing Your Habits

Understanding the emotional cycle of change


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Ethan Wei

3 years ago | 3 min read

From screen time to exercise, everyone has things they’d change about themselves. I couldn’t bring myself to learn about web development.

So I set out to change, 30 minutes at a time.

I stuck to it for a week, maybe two. Then, I had a slip-up. That small mistake turned into a week-long break, then a month-long hiatus, until it became a year-long habit.

Let’s just say, I wasn’t who’d you ask to build your website.

It wasn’t until the quarantine started when I decided to make a change. By understanding how change works, I was able to build my new habit.

If you’re reading this, you want to change. Great. You’ve reached the starting line. From here on out, it’s a long (but achievable!) journey to permanent change.

Stage 1: Uninformed Optimism

Here’s where you currently are. You’ve done research on something and decided to make a change.

This is week one, day one.

You’re probably excited to get started. You want to get going, mark that first day off the checklist.

At this stage, you’re happy-go-lucky. It’s like thinking it’ll take you an hour to sail a boat across the Pacific Ocean. You can only see the horizon, but that’s nothing compared to the true distance.

Because you’re new, you don’t know everything yet. You don't see the hidden obstacles or the advanced section. You’ve underestimated the journey.

But that’s okay! Enjoy this happiness while it lasts. Progress has to start somewhere, and it might as well be from a happy place.

Stage 2: Informed Pessimism

You’ve probably realized how close you still are to the shore. At this rate, it seems impossible to reach land. You’ve just realized how much more there is to do and how little you know.

This is the 1/3 mark in your journey, and it’ll get worse before it gets better.

You’re starting to get demotivated. By now, you’ve reached the horizon that was seemingly the destination and realized that there’s a long way to go.

It’s like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

Push through it. You’re in the “Valley of Despair.” Even though you can’t see the destination, trust in the journey. Put one figurative foot in front of the other, and keep going.

Stage 3: Informed Optimism

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the worst part.

Only 3% of people get to this stage when they try to change. Most see the Valley of Despair and turn back. It could be months or even years before they set out on this journey again.

You’re probably 2/3 done with everything you need to know/do, so you’re feeling motivated to work. You know it’s possible.

From here on out, it’s (mostly) smooth sailing. There might be small waves here and there, but nothing to steer you off course. Keep your head down and continue, it’s too late to back out now!

The only danger here is a large storm or hurricane. As long as there aren’t any emergencies in your life, you’re going to be fine. Enjoy the ride!

Stage 4: Completion

Finally, you’re done. You’ve accomplished your goal. Take a minute to soak it all in.

It’s rare when someone follows through on their attempt at behavior change. Around half fail between the first and second stages, not committing to this endeavor. Because of demotivation or uninterest, 97% don’t make it through the Valley of Despair.

Only the truly dedicated can willingly make a change in their lives. Consider this the first of many positive goals.

Maybe there’s something else you want to learn or a daring project you’ve always wanted to try. You’ve done one, so what’s stopping you from doing another?

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