Our Capacity for Change

Putting this site together has been a lot of fun, and I cannot wait for the pledge to start on October 15th.  Please send it around to anyone you think might be interested – the more people taking the pledge, the more rewarding it will be. With the start date right around the corner, I have been thinking a lot about the human ability to change.  When it comes to our actions, are we in control or are we just conscious observers of the behavioral output resulting from sub-conscious processes? How much of me is genetic programming? How much can I control or optimize?

Habit is the central issue in this quest for change, and has become a popular topic thanks to books like Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  I recommend the former.

A special thanks to Brain Pickings for leading me to the book Habit by William James.  James said, “Plasticity, then, in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.”  I think we are plastic by this definition. We can improve ourselves, but significant improvement is a process.  For me, this challenge will be accomplished one resisted temptation at a time.  Small successes will snowball. Each small victory will be easier than the last.

James’s succinct prescription is;

To change one’s life:
1. Start immediately.
2. Do it flamboyantly.
3. No exceptions. 

He elaborates:

In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reinforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

Changing our bad habits will be hard, but the reward will be huge. Michelangelo said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”  I feel that this is metaphorically true of each of us.  We too can hew away that which is weighing us down and preventing us from enjoying this fleeting life to the fullest.   We can be healthier, think more clearly, and appreciate our surroundings more profoundly.

My cousin Ryan has lived many elements of this pledge for six years - consuming no gluten, sugar or alcohol.  He has described the results to me as similar to emerging from a fog, or, after operating in life at a  6 or 7, suddenly realizing how amazing life can be at a 9 or a 10.  And that is just part of this pledge! Please send me emails anytime at oneyearpledge@gmail.com – guest blog posts would be great. Let’s do this.