Change Is Based On Emotion

Now, ironically, in astronomy, the word “revolution” means “a celestial object that comes full circle.” Did you know that? Which, if you think about it, is pretty funny, considering here on earth it means change. – Fargo (Series)DSC03299

Change sometimes comes best from the barrel of an anti-aircraft gun. (That’s The Boy, some time ago, as he weighs 190 pounds now (that’s 431 stone or 650kg).

In my experience, people are sticky.  No, not the “haven’t showered in two days in 105F weather and I just ate a runny ice cream cone and have no paper towel” sticky, but the “not going to change my habit” sticky.  Habits are sticky things, especially the ones that are bad for you.

Like tobacco.  Mmmmm.

It has been my experience that people experience lasting change for two (and only two) reasons:

  1. Extreme Emotional Impact – An extreme emotional event is one directly related to the behavior that results in change. And I mean extreme, not, “it’s snowing outside – I think I’ll lose 10 pounds.”
  2. Somebody Else Really Thinks You Should Change – This always works. Wait . . . this never works.

I guess that leaves one (and only one) reason that people change – Extreme Emotional Impact.

I have done a quick Google® search and have determined that most people who write about change on the internet and say that they have coached change, have probably never left their mother’s basement and interacted with another human being.  Some of their answers are awful.  A sampling of their “Reasons People Change’:

  1. They Have Learned” – No, sorry, as much as I like learning, it’s about as effective at changing habits as a newborn baby otter is effective at changing the oil in a 1980 Fiat Spider (hint, it’s an Italian car – you don’t change the oil, you just replace the oil that leaked out).
  2. They Have Suffered” – Good heavens, we have all suffered for years with the Kardashians. No change noted.  Suffering does not equal change, not even spare change.
  3. Tired of the Same Thing” – I ate the same hot ham and cheese sandwich for four years of high school. Well, not the same sandwich, it was a different sandwich, but it was the same kind of sandwich every day.  Change potential?  For me, not high.
  4. Want To” – The worst one so far. Everyone wants to change something.  Most of us never make any significant changes.    I “Want To” start a billion-dollar business.  Change based on “Want To” starts in . . . never.

There are more, dozens, and some are high-school term paper bad.  A couple of people, however, got close to the right answer (John Maxwell, Steve Aichison) but they used way too many words and are not nearly as cool as me.

In my years of watching and being a people, I have seen zero (nada, zilch, none, empty set) people have a significant change without emotion being the driver.  And by change, I don’t include changes that violate basic laws of physics, like pretending an amputated uvula is still attached.  I still miss my uvula, which I lost in a tragic ukulele accident at Camp Oconda back in ’03 while camping there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

There must be an equivalence and proportionality between the emotion and the change being sought – a stubbed toe will not give enough emotional energy so you can heal your relationship between you and your cheese-eating sister.  A death threat is not generally required to get someone to turn off the lights as they leave a room (with the exception of Pugsley, who seems to like all the lights on).

Two years ago, a friend of mine didn’t show up for work.  A bit later, I heard that his boss had gone to see him in the hospital.  I saw him about two months later – he had lost about 30% of his body weight, and he wasn’t all that chubby to start with.  Turns out he’d had a heart attack, a triple bypass, and had taken the doctor very seriously when he said lose weight or die.  My friend lost the weight, and has kept it off.

His mood was great, too.  I imagine that when you survive a heart attack, the little things that used to bother you (like running out of Pez© on a Thursday when the Pez™ delivery man doesn’t show up until Friday) all of a sudden lose their power over you when you’ve been in agonizing pain and about ten minutes away from seeing if all those prayers paid off.  He has two young children, and I imagine the thought of leaving them orphaned is probably a kicker.

Even with an emotional event, another necessary ingredient is that you have to have a reason to change.  Doesn’t have to be a great reason, but you have to have a reason.  If my friend hated his life? Meh, another cheeseburger, please.

The significant change I’m personally most proud of came in January of 2012.  I decided I was done with tobacco, and was worried (based on looking at my gums) that I was doing real long term damage, like deadly, to myself.  (My dentist says it all looks mahvelous now, so, not an issue.)

It was emotional for me, and I decided I was going to quit.  Despite not liking my tobacco use, The Mrs. had never once asked me to quit.  In reality, that would have had the opposite effect, BECAUSE MY SOCKS CAN STAY ON THE FLOOR!  But I announced my intentions, and quit a day later. Five years ago.


Maybe a little.

I love the smell of it.  I love the taste of it.  I love the feel of it.  If anyone ever tells me, “John Wilder, you have six months to live,” I am going to buy 500 gallons of it and fill my hot tub with it and bathe in the tobacco until I twitch like a poisoned cockroach.  I didn’t say it’s good for me.

But I don’t do that now.  I had my emo-moment (or is that an emo-momo?) one night when I really pondered if I was killing myself quickly, and decided to stop.

Emotion mixed with purpose, and it was over.  I’m done.  It’s a powerful combination.

If you look at the attempts that advertisers use (more on this on Monday) to get you to purchase Pez© or Matthew McConaughey’s sweat gland extract which he waxes about in his low monotone before going home to play naked bongos at 3AM, your emotion is their target.

Thankfully, though, I was able to use my own emotion to make the personal change.

And I’ve used emotion in the past to fire change that has been beneficial and healthy for me.

So, people are sticky.  And I know that applies to me, too, especially in July when I’ve just finished that ice cream cone and have no paper towel.


So, what’s your biggest change?  How do you deal with being covered in melted ice cream?

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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