The Paradox of Behavior Change

The natural tendency of life is to find stability. In biology we refer to this process as equilibrium or homeostasis.

For example, consider your blood pressure. When it dips too low, your heart rate speeds up and nudges your blood pressure back into a healthy range. When it rises too high, your kidneys reduce the amount of fluid in the body by flushing out urine. All the while, your blood vessels help maintain the balance by contracting or expanding as needed.

The human body employs hundreds of feedback loops to keep your blood pressure, body temperature, glucose levels, calcium levels, and many other processes at a stable equilibrium.

In his book, Mastery, martial arts master George Leonard points out that our daily lives also develop their own levels of homeostasis. We fall into patterns for how often we do (or don’t) exercise, how often we do (or don’t) clean the dishes, how often we do (or don’t) call our parents, and everything else in between. Over time, each of us settles into our own version of equilibrium.

Like your body, there are many forces and feedback loops that moderate the particular equilibrium of your habits. Your daily routines are governed by the delicate balance between your environment, your genetic potential, your tracking methods, and many other forces. As time goes on, this equilibrium becomes so normal that it becomes invisible. All of these forces are interacting each day, but we rarely notice how they shape our behaviors.

That is, until we try to make a change.

Before we talk about how to get started, I wanted to let you know I researched and compiled science-backed ways to stick to good habits and stop procrastinating. Want to check out my insights? Download my free PDF guide “Transform Your Habits” here.

The Myth of Radical Change


The myth of radical change and overnight success is pervasive in our culture. Experts say things like, “The biggest mistake most people make in life is not setting goals high enough.” Or they tell us, “If you want massive results, then you have to take massive action.”

On the surface, these phrases sound inspiring. What we fail to realize, however, is that any quest for rapid growth contradicts every stabilizing force in our lives. Remember, the natural tendency of life is to find stability. Anytime equilibrium is lost, the system is motivated to restore it.

If you step too far outside the bounds of your normal performance, then nearly all of the forces in your life will be screaming to get you back to equilibrium. If you take massive action, then you quickly run into a massive roadblock.

Nearly anyone who has tried to make a big change in their life has experienced some form of this. You finally work up the motivation to stick with a new diet only to find your co-workers subtly undermining your efforts. You commit to going for a run each night and within a week you’re asked to stay late at work. You start a new meditation habit and your kids keep barging into the room.

“Resistance is proportionate to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is a favorable or unfavorable one.”

The forces in our lives that have established our current equilibrium will work to pull us back whether we are trying to change for better or worse. In the words of George Leonard, “Resistance is proportionate to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is a favorable or unfavorable one.”

In other words, the faster you try to change, the more likely you are to backslide. The very pursuit of rapid change dials up a wide range of counteracting forces which are fighting to pull you back into your previous lifestyle. You might be able to beat equilibrium for a little while, but pretty soon your energy fades and the backsliding begins.

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