“We chronically underestimate the time it takes to get anything done AND we believe that time is open-ended and sufficiently spacious for us to get to all our self-improvement goals eventually.”
Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be, by Marshall Goldsmith, is a secular book about the environmental and psychological triggers that can derail us at work and in life.
While Goldsmith’s prescription is totally gospel-less, his diagnosis of the inner beliefs that trigger failure are full of truth. Not surprising really when you consider that while he’s helped thousands of people to change their behavior, he’s also had hundreds of failures along the way. In Chapter 2, he lists the most common inner beliefs that stop behavioral change in its tracks. See if you recognize any of them in this summary:
1. If I understand, I will do. Just because people understand what to do doesn’t ensure that they will actually do it.
2. I have willpower and won’t give in to temptations. Overconfidence means we don’t use available helps and supports to change.
3. Today is a special day. When we want to make an excuse for errant behavior, any day can be designated as a “special day” in which we indulge ourselves before we return to self-discipline tomorrow. Always tomorrow.
4. At least I’m better than… We award ourselves a free pass because we’re not the worst in the world.
5. I shouldn’t need help and structure. We believe that we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks.
6. I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm will not fade. When we plan to achieve our goals, we believe that our energy will not flag and that we will never lose our enthusiasm for the process of change.
7. I have all the time in the world. We chronically underestimate the time it takes to get anything done AND we believe that time is open-ended and sufficiently spacious for us to get to all our self-improvement goals eventually.
8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur. We get down to work without accommodating the fact that life always intrudes to alter our priorities and test our focus.
9. An epiphany will suddenly change my life. Implies that change can arise out of a sudden burst of insight and willpower.
10. My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again. If we don’t follow up, our positive change doesn’t last. Even when we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline.
11. My elimination of old problems will not bring on new problems. We forget that as we usher an old problem out the door a new problem usually enters.
12. No one is paying attention to me. We believe that we can occasionally lapse back into bad behavior because people aren’t paying close attention.
It’s almost biblical in its penetrating exposure of our deceitful human hearts isn’t it?
As Christians, we are obviously interested not just in behavior-change but in heart-change. However, that too begins by recognizing the slippery excuses we use to deny our need of change, to hide our unwillingness to change, and to cover up our inability to change.
Read further: 8 Reasons Why We Should Want to Change
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.