Change is hard–no two ways about it.

Whether you want to lose weight, kick a bad habit, improve a relationship, make a difference at work, or change the world in some other way, getting started is the easy part. Most of us can probably change our behavior for a day or two.

What’s hard is sticking with it.

I’m no different from you. I want to be a better person but I’ve fought the same fights as you. I get started for a while (remember those New Year’s resolutions?) and then eventually lose interest. I lack the resolve to resolve my resolutions.

This year, however, I’ve had more success than I’ve had in the past. I’ve discovered some things that may help you, too. Here’s what I’ve done:

  • I defined one to three goals in each of seven areas: career, financial, spiritual, physical, intellectual, family, and social.
  • For each goal, I’ve set a specific, measurable action. For example, as a physical goal, I’ve determined to do 30 (or more) pushups and situps at least three days per week. At the end of each week, I know whether I’ve met the goal. This is much easier than saying “I want to get in shape.” How would I know if I’d accomplished that?
  • I’ve written down the goals and shared them with a couple folks who will keep me accountable. Ultimately, though, I make these commitments to myself–I can’t have goals for someone else’s benefit.
  • I’m forcing myself to do things I wouldn’t normally do. This is where the cold showers come in and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Rocket surgery, right?

Not really. This is pretty basic stuff. You don’t need a college degree to change your life like this, but you do need to follow through.

And this is where most of us fail.

I recently read The Flinch by Julien Smith. It’s short and it’s free–you should read it. The flinch is the reaction we have to danger or threats to the way things are, the status quo. It’s about avoiding pain and protecting ourselves. In some cases, this is life-saving; in most, however, it’s not. If you raise your hands in front of your face to avoid getting hit, this is good. If you’re afraid of visiting the dentist, this is not good. A trip to the dentist’s office may bring some pain but it (most likely) won’t kill you.

Julien Smith suggests some exercises to help you overcome the flinch instinct–essentially tricks that you learn to play on your subconscious mind. The purpose of the exercises is to help you push your limits and to train you that most scary/hard things won’t kill you.

The first exercise is to step into a cold shower. Why? Because you’ll flinch but the cold water won’t kill you.

That’s why I’m taking cold showers this week.

Each morning, I’ve turned on the water and let it run. Good and cold before I step in. On Monday, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, it was shocking at first, but after a few seconds I turned up  the hot water and finished my shower. It was kind of fun.

Tuesday and Wednesday, though, were harder.

I knew what to expect and started thinking about how that cold water would feel well before I stepped in. Yesterday, in fact, I was thinking about it while I was shaving. It was harder to step in to the cold water but I did it. And I did it today and I’ll do it tomorrow because I know these silly little assignments are testing me and asking whether I’ve got what it takes when the stakes are higher.

And I’m discovering that I do.

That’s how I’m making change work in my life: setting goals, following through, and pushing myself to do things that test my limits.

What makes you flinch? What are you doing to change? Drop a comment below.

Start doing the opposite of your habits. It builds up your tolerance to the flinch and its power.  –Julien Smith

Incidentally, what Julien Smith calls “the flinch,” Seth Godin has called “the lizard brain” (Linchpin) and Steven Pressfield has called “Resistance” (The War of Art and Do the Work). Those are good reads and will give you insight into what’s preventing you from making the change you want to make.

Reading the books, however, won’t change your life.

You’re the only one who can step in the shower.

Get The Flinch–free on Amazon.