“Change”… One of the most popular words of 2015, especially in Nigeria. We all remember the electioneering mantra of the now-majority political party; the mantra that earned them the historical feat of democratically unseating an incumbent. This is also the season of promises of change; a lot of people evaluate themselves around this time of year and come up with various new year resolutions.
According to the dictionary, change is
an act or process through which something becomes different
This is different from the perceptions held by most people of what change involves. The general expectation is that change can, and should, happen literally overnight. In reality, as the definition above tells us, change is actually a process, usually not a very fun one, no matter how positive the objective:
- Timi has decided that he will change his caffeine-ingestion habits by eliminating coffee and caffeine-infused soda drinks from his diet. This is a very positive move, and he will be the healthier for it. He will however have to endure some painful withdrawal symptoms as he goes through the process towards attaining his objective.
- Chidi has decided that he will change his financial situation by becoming more frugal with his expenses. He has decided to stop certain purchases. This sounds easy, but can be quite emotionally painful.
- Adamu has decided to turn his health around by eating healthier foods and developing an exercise routine. This can be very painful as his body adjusts to the new regime. The sight of an inviting cookie or plate of pasta can derail the best-intentioned.
These examples highlight an often-overlooked fact: positive change may sound sexy, but it is actually painful! It requires a lot of mental, emotional, as well as physical strength. The goal is usually well-known to be a very positive one: losing weight, becoming financially secure, becoming healthy and physically fit, becoming a self-sufficient nation.
Lastly, change is not an end in itself. When the desired change is attained, it needs to be maintained. Imagine if Chidi attains a certain level of savings and then stops being frugal. Or if Adamu reaches a certain body weight and then stops watching what he eats. For change to be effective, it has to be permanent. The process has to become the new normal. According to research by Phillippa Lally (a health psychology researcher at University College London),
it takes more than 2 months, on average, before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
So, as we go through our necessary societal changes, and as we make promises of change to ourselves, we should be realistic by acknowledging the discomfort and pain that would be involved, and develop the necessary grit required to get through it and come out victorious on the other side. We should be ready to be determined, persistent, and consistent as we go through the long journey to get where we want to be. One change that would be really nice would be to successfully make every promised change a new habit, so there will be no need to ever promise the same change again :).
Happy new year in advance! See you in 2016.