Improvement: Tiptoeing past “Amy”

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Like weight loss, getting organized is one of the top five resolutions on New Year’s lists. Every year. So why are we not all specimens of peak productivity and perfect health by now?

While it’s undeniable that sometimes change happens in an eye-blink, more often getting good results requires consistent application of a new practice until that new practice becomes a habit.

We humans are uniquely able to work at cross-purposes to our own desires and commitments. I may decide to write a book or do 30 minutes of cardio every day, no matter what, but in the crush of competing values and interests the work required to produce five good pages or get on the rebounder loses out. There is some stress involved in making even the most beneficial changes.

One factor that contributes to our reluctance to change is seated in the part of our brain responsible for our emotional learning, the amygdala. I’ll call it “Amy”. When something is emotionally powerful, it is Amy’s job to record that memory. In the average person Amy is moderately risk-averse, avoiding the repetition of painful or stressful experience. To make positive change, we must charm her.

One way to avoid activating all of Amy’s powers against stressful change is to tiptoe past, by making small incremental changes. Focus on one improvement at a time, and implement it gradually. Make a list of all the positive changes you’d like to make, then choose just one to work on daily for a week or a month before adding another.

(Thanks to Jennifer McDaniel-Wolfe, CPO, CPO-CD, of Organize for Life LLC in Milwaukee, and her April 12 session at the National Association of Professional Organizers conference for some of the ideas in this post. A CD of her session is available from VW Tapes.)

Will incremental change be sufficient to get you to your goal? I’ll address that question later in the week.

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