[PD] Avoid Giving Up and Burning Out by Incremental Change

I had a conversation at dinner tonight where a friend of a friend mentioned her effort on a physical training program. Unfortunately, the attempt seemed to have come to an end after 12 days. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Haven’t we all heard this somewhere before? Maybe because it’s happening all around us. Perhaps you are one of them.

This is the exact same thing when we hear about someone’s new year resolution or someone’s birthday resolution or someone’s after-doctor-visit resolution. Somehow these certain events would provide people this sudden burst of energy and motivation. Then overnight, they transform into fanatics in exercising and gym. Amazing. But these effort usually ends in desertion and is completely forgotten after a few days, a few weeks, or at most a few months. All that effort wasted, sadly.

What went wrong? People burn out quickly whenever they abruptly change their entire routine and lifestyle in order to contribute to such total dedicaion. Let’s say your work suddenly requires you to work 100 hours per week when you usually work 40. I’m sure you will burn out quite quickly. Suddenly making yourself exercise couple hours everyday of the week when you don’t normally exercise is no difference. Despite feeling good for yourself at the beginning, such abrupt change puts so much stress, both physical and mental, on you that will easily lead to giving up.

How to avoid? First, you must understand that your goal is to achieve long-term, sustaining change. You may as well not waste your time if you don’t see it this way. You will need to implement incremental change over time, by doing it one step after another. You cannot learn to sprint without learning the proper way to breath and run first. You cannot lift 100 lbs before you can lift 25, 50, 75… lbs first. So, if you never run on daily basis, maybe start running 15 minutes at a comfortable pace. Then 30 minutes, 45 minutes, with gradual increase in speed. Find a suitable pace for yourself.

However, in order to improve, it is essential that you must push yourself a little over the limit each time. Run just a little longer and faster, lift just a little heavier, despite the diffuculty, despite the pain. Move outside your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable. In the end, it’s all worth it because you want to change, to improve, which is why you are doing it in the first place.

So far I have mostly focus on the health aspect of incremental change. However, the same princple can be applied in personal development and personal finance. If you spend $2000 in order to eat delicious food each month and then you force yourself to start eating fast food or only salads for $200 a month, the likelihood of you keeping up is extremely low. Worse yet, you may rebound and start spending more than $2000 later to make up for it. Instead, you can slowly lessen the frequency of eating out, at expensive restaurants, to give yourself time to get used to the change. Eventually, you will end up spending $200 a month. Or you can start saving $50 each month, then $100 after awhile, then $200…

It is important to understand that the incremental change principle suggested here is a healthy way to create sustaining change, applicable in all areas of life. It is not the only way, but it is a healthy way. It is about making a conscious choice for every action and doing it one step at a time.

Based on the incremental change principle, I suggested to the friend, “How about slow it down and start training 2 to 3 times a week?” for which I received a blank stare on her face. I sure hope this post is a bit more well received.

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