Have you ever struggled with change? Have you ever wanted to change, started it, but after some weeks discontinued your approach? Have you ever made a New Years Resolution and forgot about it after 2 weeks?
Welcome to the club. I’ve been there too. Now, you might think, that you are just lacking will-power, or that you are not made to experience this wanted state. However, I am here to tell you, that you are absolutely normal, but you just followed the wrong systems for change.
I remember that I received the key for change in my homeopathic education from my teacher one summer day, when he told me the principle for healing a chronic state.
Each chronic disease (and each chronic state) is a system in balance. To heal it (or change it) you need to disturb it with a non-threatening impulse.
This is such a deep statement of truth, that I would like to break it down for you, to turn it into a system, that will allow you to change anything you like.
What Is a Chronic State?
Chronic here means any state (or illness) you were in for a longer period of time.
That means that:
- having an illness for several years
- being in a non-loving relationship for some time
- staying in a non-fulfilling job for several years
- not following your dreams and staying in your old life
- being overweight for several years
- being a smoker or using other drugs on a regular basis for years
are all examples of chronic states.
Why Is a Chronic State a System in Balance?
Each of the above mentioned states is a system in balance.
Now you might say, wait a second, smoking or being overweight doesn’t seem like a balanced state. Well, balanced doesn’t mean healthy in this context, it means a state that your subconscious and your body system have accepted as a state of balance, as normal. Normal doesn’t mean good or healthy, but something that your subconscious and your body have arranged with.
And your subconscious as well as your body system loves a balanced state and wants you to stay within that balance.
That’s why your subconscious and your body will fight your attempts
- to lose weight with a radical new diet. You know how easy your appetite can sabotage you and how hard your body holds onto those unwanted layers of fat.
- to stop smoking. Your body as well as your subconscious will increase the craving for the next cigarette
- to quit your job and go after your dreams. Suddenly you realize how dangerous this could be, and how much you enjoy the comfort and security of your current life
- to leave your partner. You might doubt, that there will be anyone else to at least be with you. At least you have someone and being alone could be a real threat.
Why Your Subconscious and Your Body System Love Balanced States (and Fight for It)?
Now you might say, that this is not fair, but you shouldn’t blame your subconscious for sabotaging your efforts, it just did it’s job.
The primary job of your subconscious as well as your body system is to protect your survival and keep you away from any threat or danger. And anything that is about to change the status quo is a possible threat.
So anything that changes the status quo too much could be a threat to your body and your subconscious and will be treated as such.
A Frightened Lady Called Amygdala
There is a structure within your brain called the amygdala.
Its purpose is to function as the body’s central alarm system. It can gather information from several routes; from emotions, from thoughts and from sensory input. It also gathers memories of how you’ve responded to fear, perceived threats and actual threats since infancy.
The amygdala can bypass the cerebral cortex, so it will bypass all logic and will force you into predefined reaction patterns, which were needed for a real danger, like a tiger attacking you. But nowadays this tiger rarely is attacking you. However, the system is still working that way and what used to be a tiger some million years ago, is now the terror of you needing to file the tax papers, or something as frightening as that.
The Arndt-Schulz Rule
Here comes in play the Arndt-Schulz rule. The rule was named after Hugo Paul Friedrich Schulz and Rudolf Arndt. They found that ..
… for every substance, small doses stimulate, moderate doses inhibit, large doses kill.
While the rule is based on the effect of drug dilutions on the body system, it could also be used for psychological changes. In essence, it means that if a change is too big, it could be interpreted by your subconscious as a threat and then your subconscious will work against your conscious efforts. Most of the time your subconscious wins over your conscious efforts in the long run, that’s why forcing a change through will power is most of the time bound to fail.
Why You Need to Disturb the Status Quo?
Every chronic, balanced state by itself doesn’t want to change. It wants to stay in the vicious cycle of repeating what it has already accepted as normal.
Unfortunately, although your body and your subconscious are going for balance with this tactic, it doesn’t work. A chronic illness as well as a chronic emotional state not changed from the outside tend to become worse with the years. This is another proof, that there is no unchanged, fixed balance. It’s like when you don’t use a muscle it gets weaker. And when you don’t work on a chronic illness or chronic state it gets worse.
That is why every healing and every change needs to disturb the system. The sleeping system needs to be shaken a bit, so it awakes and reuses its power to move into another direction.
Non-Threatening Steps: The Key to Lasting Change
But of course we have a problem. We need to disturb the system to change or heal, yet the system or your subconscious doesn’t want to be disturbed. At least not too much. There is a degree of disturbance, that will (like the Arndt-Schulz rule said) stimulate, while anything above a certain degree of disturbance will be seen as a threat and will be counteracted by your body system or your subconscious.
You need to define steps, that will move you forward, while not feeling threatening to you.
That is in essence what Kaizen is all about. It is not about the big change, the big steps, the massive innovation, the revolution. No, it is about small, simple steps which are non-threatening and so easy, that it seems laughable at first. However, when continually executed these small steps will become bigger and bigger, because your subconscious will become comfortable with the idea of change, and will allow you to make bigger steps pretty soon.
How Small Are Small Steps?
It’s better to start with the smallest thinkable step and let it grow naturally, then it is to make a slightly too big step and lose your motivation.
If you feel demotivated, make your steps smaller.
Now what are some examples for smallest steps:
- If you want to loose weight, don’t start with a 30 minute / 5 times a week program. Start walking for 1 minute every day, even if in front of your TV.
- If you want to stop smoking, start with 1 cigarette less each day
- If you want to wake up earlier, go to bed 1 minute earlier and wake up 1 minute earlier
- If you want to write a book, just make a commitment to write a minimum of 1 sentence each day.
Come up with your own Non-Threatening Smallest Steps. You need to listen to your body. If your body finds this step so laughable easy to do, then it is ok, you might increase it. But if you feel to tired to do it, then the step is too big. Find the step that your body feels comfortable with.
The key is to avoid triggering your amygdala. So anything that bypasses the stress-level that will trigger the amygdala, can be easily done and repeated. And after a while, your amygdala-triggering-level will increase, and you can make the steps just a tiny bit bigger.
Now if you are the person who could win through will-power, then keep on using your strategy. However, if you’ve struggled with change for years and never had enough willpower to make it through the tough times, maybe stop stressing yourself and try the easy way of using Non-Threatening Small Steps.
If you would like to know more about this principle, there is a great book by Robert Maurer called “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” (Affiliate Link) that covers this principle and its application much more in depth. Highly recommended reading!
Help Others to Make Small Steps too
And while it is great to change your own life with small, simple steps, you should also know, that you can change the life of others through small, simple steps too. That’s why I am part of the “Blog with heart challenge” that my friends Mary Jaksch, Arvind Devalia and Leo Babauta initiated. Read more on Marys blog GoodlifeZen. And if you would like to join, I’ve created a lending team called “unwrapyourmind“. Join Kiva and my team and then let’s do a small step towards improving the lives of others too. I did it – and started with 4 loans today. Join me now.