“Most people – they raise a family, they earn a living, and then they die. They stop growing, they stop working on themselves, they stop stretching, and they stop pushing themselves.”
Les Brown (Author; Live Your Dreams)
“You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler.”
Denis Waitley (Author; The Psychology of Winning)
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”
Harold Wilson (Former Prime Minister; United Kingdom)
The fastest way to improve your performance is to change your environment.
If I had one more moment of contentment I was going to explode. I had my Ph.D., I had a great job, and I had a good life. I had everything I needed. But I could feel myself getting dumber. I could hear myself becoming less competent. Every morning, after I showered, I would look in the mirror and see the hardness, drive, and resolve leaving my face.
I was sinking into a big fat plateau. You know when you take a new job or set a new goal and you’re really excited about it? At first, if you’re like me, you have a ton of energy and you’re extremely focused so you learn very quickly and make great gains. Then, slowly, your enthusiasm fades and you reach a kind of plateau.
This plateau feels good–it feels like a place to rest. After all, you’ve worked hard and you deserve a rest. You know your stuff well enough at this point that you won’t get fired if you stop pushing your limits. You’ve made progress on your goal; you’ve tried hard for while, and that’s what really counts. So, you settle into your plateau and get comfortable. The problem is that plateaus are poisonous to your dreams. They will slowly destroy your goals if you stay on them.
Growth requires change. Growth is the opposite of habit. Growth cannot occur on a plateau because all plateaus are created by habits. You cannot improve in the middle of a routine. It’s impossible. By definition, a habit is a ritual that you perform without activating the decision-making part of your brain. Improving, on the other hand, always requires an active decision to go beyond your current capabilities. And going beyond your current capabilities is always uncomfortable. If you’re not at least a little uncomfortable, you’re not growing. If you’re not growing, it’s time for a change.
Ruin Your Routine
The Hawthorne effect is named after one of the most famous series of experiments in industrial history. Overall, the study showed that a person’s performance is influenced by his surroundings, including the people he is surrounded by, as much as by his own innate abilities.
During one of the experiments factory workers were divided into two groups. The lighting in the work area of the first group was improved dramatically while the second group’s lighting remained unchanged. The researchers found that the work performance of the highly illuminated group increased drastically compared to the control group. But the first group’s productivity also increased dramatically when, a few weeks later, their lights were dimmed.
No matter what the researchers changed, whether it was the humidity of the room, the organization of the factory tables, or the employees’ working hours and rest breaks, the worker’s performance improved.
Sabotage Your Way To Success
I write better and faster at coffee shops that I’ve never been to before. I have better workouts up to 10 days after I change the workout playlist on my iPod. I also run faster (and am more excited to run in the first place) for 2-3 weeks after I buy a new pair or running shoes. Why?
Your brain is a blob of lazy patterns. You have to break these patterns if you want to grow. The human brain creates patterns to adapt us to whatever environment we are in. But, once you’ve adapted, these patterns settle and become highly resistant to change. These patterns are real–they’re biological.
A group of researchers from the University College of London published findings, which earned them the Ig Noble Prize for Medicine in 2003, showing that the brains of London taxi drivers were more developed than those of their ordinary citizens. Their study showed that the posterior hippocampi of the drivers were significantly larger than non-drivers. This is the region of the brain responsible for spatial representation. The higher the level of demand for spatial representation, the more this region of their brains had grown posteriorly.
The ability of your brain to physically adapt is called brain plasticity. Your brain can re-pattern itself throughout your entire lifetime if you keep pushing it–if you keep changing. I wonder how big the part of my brain is that craves coffee, red meat, and action movies staring Angelina Jolie. I don’t think it’s big enough to win a prize.
Comfort Is A Prison
Your comfort zone is a prison. When I found myself floundering in the middle of a comfortable plateau after getting my Ph.D., I decided to shake things up. But changing the intensity of the light bulbs in my bedroom wasn’t enough, neither was buying a new pair of running shoes.
I was too comfortable. I was too content. I was dealing with a deeply grooved pattern–a pattern that wouldn’t be broken easily. I needed to drastically change my surroundings. For me, this meant selling everything I owned, changing jobs, and driving to California.
Changing wasn’t easy. In fact, a lot of things went wrong. But after a disastrous month or two, I started to grow rapidly. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found myself in the middle of another plateau. So I hit the rest button again and moved to the other end of the country.
Uncertainty Is Healthy
Change for the sake of change. Human beings need uncertainty as much as they need certainty. Everyone focuses on the certainty part. We stay at jobs we hate, save for retirement, and nurture relationships that we know deep down are bad for us. We think these are the responsible things to do. Anything else would be self-sabotage. Anything else would be irresponsible. In reality, choosing safety and consistency over change and growth is the most irresponsible thing you can do.
Respect your need for uncertainty and change. Change is the only thing that will grow your brain and help you blast past plateaus. The key is to change your life in your own way. Don’t let other people’s rules put you in a box. Breaking other people’s rules is a great way to initiate growth. The more rules you break, the more breakthroughs you’ll have.
Change is a dial. If you’ve hit a small plateau, dial up a little change. Reorganize your office, buy a new wardrobe, or find a new place to workout. If you’re stuck on a big plateau–if you’ve been lounging at the same position for the last 5 years and you see your lifelong dreams slipping away–dial up a lot of change. Change jobs, ask to be relocated, start your own business, or take up an new hobby. Do the thing you don’t want to do but you know you should do.
Of course, you don’t want to change so often that change itself becomes the only consistent thing in you life. Don’t desensitize yourself to change and don’t make drastic changes just because the going gets tough. Your goal is to use change to overcome plateaus, not escape difficult circumstances. You don’t have to quit your job to change. And you don’t have to break off a relationship either. Or maybe you do. You’re the only one that knows what kind of change you need.
Have you hit a plateau in your life? If so, what changes are you going to make?
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