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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Building Your Change Muscle

Change is hard; even if you want to change. If you don’t think so try changing the way you fold your arms. Many times, the actual change is not the real problem; instead, we feel frustrated when we can’t find meaning in our new situation. Impatience and a longing for certainty also get in the way of the natural process of change. Some people are better at it than others because they’ve learned some simple strategies for changing, but also because they’ve built up their change muscle.

What’s a change muscle? It’s the muscle we use for creating changes in our lives, and like our physical muscles, it is weak if you haven’t trained it. Our change muscle is there to help us adapt; we all have this ability.

Like any muscle, the change muscle is strengthened through consistent use. Every time you are faced with a change and move through it, you are activating this part of yourself. The principles for growing your change muscle are similar to growing regular muscles. Here are 5 ways to improve your ability to deal with change using the exercising of muscle analogy:

Start small. If you try to lift too much weight at first, you’ll have bad form and could injure yourself and therefore won’t last long. But if you start small (or lighter weights), you can learn how to lift and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. The change muscle is the same: start with one small change at first. You may want to do more, but if you do more, you’re much more likely to fail in the long run.

Train regularly. Some people will go to the gym for a week, then stop, then start again in a few months. This is a waste of time, and no progress will be seen. You have to do it regularly to see progress. Same with the change muscle: do it daily, make it routine. You’ll get stronger and stronger with regular training. Don’t start big, then fail after 1-2 weeks, then start again later. Regular repetition is the key.

Increase load gradually. If you don’t increase the weights, you don’t get stronger. But if you increase too much, you could get injured. With your change muscle, increase your daily training each week building on what you have learned from the previous days and weeks. You’ll be amazed at how strong your change muscle gets with gradual progressive loading.

Rest. Most people don’t understand the importance of rest when it comes to training. We train, then rest, and we grow. If we don’t rest, we hurt our progress. Growing the change muscle is the same. Resting is like reflection, where you learn as you do. Don’t overload yourself this hurts learning and progress. Make one change, and let yourself stick to your regular routine. This forms a new habit.

Fuel the growth. Aside from rest, fuel is one of the most overlooked aspects of muscle growth. You need sufficient calories for growth, otherwise all the training in the world won’t get you anywhere. So what fuels the growth of the change muscle? Motivation. Find as many ways to motivate yourself as possible: make the change enjoyable, don’t go it alone, create rewards, celebrate small victories, create a chart to see your progress, etc. Motivation is the fuel for growing your change muscle.

Like real muscle your change muscle has memory. You’ll need to learn how to learn from your experience in a way that allows you to tackle the next challenge. Muscle memory makes the process familiar and systematic but you must develop that muscle properly for it to be ready for the challenge.

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  1. Hi Tim,

    Nice post! The pic of the weightlifter made me think of the need for a spotter. When conducting change and developing your change muscles, it is prudent to have someone spot for you. A spotter is there for safety purposes (making sure, for example that you don't get crushed by an overloaded barbell) and for encouragement. So, one questions for folks is, "Who is your spotter?"

    1. Thanks Mark. You're "spot" on of course. A sensei is a valuable asset on your journey just like a spotter in weight lifting. It was certainly helpful to me when I started.

  2. I like the idea of a spotter for safety.
    I like the idea of the workout partner even more. Finding one or two people to join you in training for change is another way to add to the motivation to keep the changes going. In weightlifting or any form of training, workout partners are a great way to fuel growth as there will be someone who has been a part of the transformation and truly appreciates the effort gone into the process. The celebration of victories are also a little more fun.

    Thanks for the great post.

    1. Wesley, you have a good point. It is helpful to have a network of like minded practitioners that can support each other. This group can share ideas and ask for advice. A little friendly competition for continuous improvement can be a good motivator when things are difficult, too.