Archive for January, 2014

Why making change is hard

I started a Bible reading plan on New Year’s Day. I’m already three days behind.

Without airing too much dirty laundry, I also resolved to drawer my “worn, but clean” clothes rather than draping them over the bath tub wall. That lasted about a week. A draped pile has already begun to grow.

I can count on ten cracked knuckles the things I wanted to change in 2013 that I’m still doing today.

Why is change so difficult? Why are even the easy changes hard?

I ponder these questions every year about this time as sworn-off habits re-germinate. Willpower for amenities gets redirected to simply getting food on the table. Luxuries like a 45-minute morning workout give way to just getting to work fully dressed.

In a book called The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the two players involved in human attempts for change.

The first player is our rational side, the side that determines you need to stop eating ice cream every night at 9:30. Haidt says this side is like an elephant rider: smart and forward-looking but hardly capable of controlling the beast beneath him if it wants something bad enough.

The second player is our emotional side, the side that needs a hit of nicotine to relax. This side is like the elephant: powerful but thinking more about his next bag of peanuts than health or retirement.

The logical rider can see past instant gratification to long-term benefits, but he can’t provide the energy to accomplish much meaningful work. The energy must come from the elephant of emotion (a.k.a. passion).

If the two players disagree, the rider can coerce the elephant with some yanks on the reins (i.e., willpower) but only for a while. It takes something more to keep him focused over the long haul.

The rider must recognize and admit there’s an issue. As British writer G.K. Chesterton said, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

The rider must train the elephant by controlling the stimuli presented to the animal. “Distract and coax the elephant without having to engage in a direct contest of wills,” Haidt writes.

He continues, “Once you understand the power of stimulus control, you can use it to your advantage by changing the stimuli in your environment and avoiding undesirable ones.”

In his book Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson offers this helpful formula for change: “Change of place plus change of pace equals change of perspective.”

What if I disrobed next to my chest of drawers rather than the bath tub? (Change of place)

Regarding change of pace, Haidt recognizes the role of fatigue in failures of self-control: “Like a tired muscle, [the rational rider] wears down and caves in, but [the emotional elephant] runs automatically, effortlessly, and endlessly.”

How could I change my place, pace and perspective on that bedtime bowl of ice cream? Perhaps by kicking back in my bedroom with a good novel and a tasty cup of decaf rather than poring over household bills on the kitchen table.

Of course, I could also remember that ice cream in the freezer is like a turtle on a fence post. It didn’t get there on its own.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

A man worth imitating

I didn’t know him as well as some, but I didn’t have to. It only took a few interactions with Mike Coyle to understand the caliber of the man you were dealing with.

He was 53 when he passed unexpectedly a few days before Christmas. For as much as I don’t know why good people perish in the prime of their lives, I do know this: Mike Coyle accomplished more in fifty-three years than most of us will in 80. And I don’t just mean earthly accomplishments; I mean heavenly ones, too.

My interactions with Mike began while delivering customer Christmas gifts. I was just a junior banker, new to town. The gift was merely a tin of nuts. Yet, he welcomed me in like I was something special and he had nothing going on. We visited for 10 or 15 minutes about our families, his business, his new office.

I later found out he had plenty going on. When I volunteered for the city planning commission, I realized how many important public and private projects he helped with. Throughout south Texas and the hill country, he and his beloved wife, Beth, built a highly respected civil engineering firm. These Aggies would make a Longhorn proud.

My path would often cross Mike’s in political circles. Though heavily involved, he was hardly interested in raw power. He wanted good leadership and sound governance. He engaged not because he wanted something in return. He engaged simply because he cared, and that’s rare for someone who often has business before government bodies.

Mike wanted the best not just for himself, but for you and me. He wanted good for the community he called home for more than 25 years, a community he served in so many official and informal ways. It was no surprise that some wanted him to run for county commission.

Mike’s friend, Dan Pedrotti, said it well at his memorial: “There was no arrogance, no conceit, no deceit in Mike Coyle.” The words reminded me of what Jesus said about his disciple, Nathanael, in John 1, “Here is a true member of God’s family in whom there is no deceit.” Mike was a true member of God’s family.

Speaking of family, Bill McCartney, founder of the PromiseKeepers Men’s Ministry, said you can tell the measure of a man by the countenance on his wife’s face. No face shines brighter in Boerne than that of Beth Coyle.

Beth’s demeanor stems from her own wide-ranging giftedness (notice her photography on display in the Daily Grind sometime) but also from the strength imparted by a deeply loving and unselfish man.

And their children? Mike and Beth had twin daughters early, recalling Psalm 127:4 – “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” They now have children of their own. Letters written by the two young mothers left no dry eye at the funeral. They are all your preacher needs to say next Father’s Day.

And so the questions ring out: Why so soon? Why now? Why him?

But so do the imperatives: Live freely and joyfully. Love generously and fully. Be faithful.

As does this bit of wondering: Like Mike, If I could be like Mike…

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.


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