How long to change?

My last post about making software developers properly test their code lead me to thinking about change. We all changed since we were born and not only in size. We adopted new ideas, developed new skills and changed our habits. How long does this take?

Short answer: A day, a year or forever.

Long answer: There is change which just happens overnight. Take smoking. Many people successfully stop smoking all of a sudden. They start thinking what they do, why they do it and they stop. That’s what I call “one day change”. It’s not something which needs a lot of effort, it just needs resolve and a decision.

The year change is different. Imaging you want to give up a habit. Say you talk too loud. Or you’re not as reliable as you want. Or you don’t test your software enough. There are reasons why you should do it. And there are reasons why you don’t do it. Repeat: There are reasons not to change.

A lot of people try to change but they forget that there are “good” reasons why they behave the way they do. It’s more simple, maybe there is a genetic disposition, maybe their peer group supports the current behavior. If you want to change, you need two things:

  1. The goal must have some positive impact on you.
  2. A list of reasons why you don’t want to change

The first thing is necessary to make sure the goal is worth the effort. If it’s an uphill struggle with no gain, give up, spare yourself the frustration and try some other goal. Maybe someone else wants you to give up an annoying tick but you don’t see the point. Let me repeat: This is no excuse to have no goals, it just means not this goal.

The list will help you cut all the ties which hold you back. They will make you see patterns, they will make you realize when someone or something is trying to influence you to stay the way you are. So you want to lose weight. But your peers don’t want to waste money or effort on healthy food. Find a way to change that. Not overnight. You have one year. Start with small things. Eat a carrot every day. Try different carrots, see whether they taste different. Grow your own carrots.

Or maybe you eat because you feel bad. Buy some funny comic books that make you laugh. Buy them, read them and then place them next to the fridge. When the hunger comes, get some food and a comic and have some fun. It won’t solve the problem but it’s better than moping, right? You can’t really work on a personal issue while feeling bad, right? So have some fun and when you feel better, maybe you can do something about the real problem. Maybe not but you’ll still feel better.

When you often buy food that makes you gain weight, buy some small containers and spread the food into them. Turn one bag of chips into four small boxes. Store the boxes in a place that isn’t easy to reach. Make it harder to follow your old routine and more easy to follow the new one. Bury the chips behind a bowl of fruit and vegetables.

The year change is hard because it takes so long. If you don’t get positive feedback from the change along the way, you will lose focus and the change won’t happen. Also keep in mind that the change will happen slowly. After the year, you’ll suddenly notice that you changed.

Which leaves us with the forever change. There are two kinds: The Zen change and the impossible change.

The Zen change is something where you get better every day. You can meditate a hundred years and you will get better at it every single day.

The impossible change is change that won’t happen. If you try to quit smoking but you don’t have the resolve, even through they just took your last leg. If you select a fresh salad for lunch and pour half a liter of French sauce over it. If your boss says you must do something but you don’t see the point. When you just can’t see a reason to change. Try to notice it. When you noticed a forever change, learn to be honest with yourself and accept that it won’t happen. Or that you need someone else with an idea how to make it happen.

Good luck!

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