Math of Self-Change
Ever thought about how many precedents of change it takes to change a habit? Indeed, how many precedents did it take you to quit the last habit you quit and to develop the last habit you developed? Something to ponder, huh? Well, here’s a bit of somewhat arbitrary math of self-change for your to ponder …
The hand-to-mouth eating motion is just as automated as our bipedal loco-motion. It’s, pardon my Spanish, loco to think that merely reading about mindful eating will do you any good. It won’t, not without an experiential journey to accompany your insights. After all, to walk, it’s not just enough to have wings of intention, but you also have to have fairly well-conditioned hamstrings and a path of change long enough to get you to your destination.
Consider this: you have invested literally a lifetime into mindless eating. It’s gonna take you a few clicks to override your mindless eating reflex with a habit of mindful eating. It’s a marathon not a Blitzkrieg, a process of deciding to be mindful, time and again, not a one-time decision to stop being mindless.
The goal is simple: to set one mindful eating precedent at each meal. Most of us eat at least 3 times a day. If you have a mindful eating exercise to try at each meal, that’s about 1,000 mindful eating precedents (just rounding up 365 days worth of 3 mindful eating precedents per day). Imagine how far a 1,000 precedents of change will get you!
To date, I have finished three self-help books, one page at a time. Not that it’s any big deal — just grist for the mill to make the point below. Eating the Moment — on overcoming overeating one meal at a time; Present Perfect — on overcoming perfectionism one self-evaluation at a time; and The Lotus Effect — on overcoming an identity crisis one self-description at a time. I am working on my fourth: Smoke Break — on overcoming smoking one craving at a time. You see the pattern?
Each book is an experiential curriculum, each book featuring well over 100 exercises, meditations, practices, and activities. Eating the Moment – in particular – features 141 mindful practices, with each “mindful practice” having alternate forms, which allows a reader (interested in systematic, methodical, non-impulsive change) to have a practice/exercise to try at each and every meal.
Why am I sharing all this math, these writing notes of a self-help author? To highlight the importance of experiential homework. Both as a writer, reader, clinician and a do-it-yourself self-changer myself, I cannot emphasize enough the absolute necessity of experiential homework. Sure, epiphanies happen. Sure, people do, now and then, have a 180-degree turnaround on a dime. But that’s rare. More often than not, change is built 1 precedent at a time.
So, here’s the staging itinerary of this change journey, if you are working on mindful eating (and not just mindlessly reading about it):
Phase 1: Informational Awareness: “I know about mindful eating. I tried it…” — learn about the nuts and bolts of mindful eating, about its endless nuances and subtleties.
Phase 2: Experiential Awareness: “I experienced mindful eating, saw that it is useful, and I am trying to integrate it into my eating life…” — shop the approach, try it for size, pilot mindful eating for a bit to see if it makes any difference for you and if it does, commit to turning it into second nature. In other words, build a new reflex: a reflex of mindfulness, of presence whenever you open your mouth to eat.
Phase 3: Habitual Application: “I developed a habit of mindful eating — whenever I eat, instead of tuning out, I tune it to eating & to myself!” — ride the new habit to sunset.
Anything short of this is cheating yourself, and why would you do that?
Habits aren’t changed, they are built, just like the proverbial Rome, over many, many days. How many? My guess: about a year worth of days, about a 1,000 precedents of change per habit. Is this a random number? Yes. What’s my basis for it? An ancient saying that you’ve heard a million times: a road of a 1000 miles begins with 1 step. Time to take it:
Somov, P. (2011). Math of Self-Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 11, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2010/03/math-of-self-change/