Try The Dimmer Switch Approach To Change

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How many times have you rushed into making a change in your life — changing a habit, or learning a new skill — only to have it flop, fall down or fail? 

I’m not just talking about New Year’s resolutions.  It happens at other times of the year, too, where we “go for it” and then give up when it doesn’t work right away. 

Why does this happen?

There are two sets of lights in my kitchen.  One set is the type of switch that’s all ON or all OFF.  If I flip that switch ON early in the morning as I enter the kitchen to make coffee before the sun is up, it’s so bright that I need a shield — an “umbrella” for my eyes while my pupils catch up with the light streaming in.  The other set of kitchen lights has a dimmer, so I can regulate what I’m ready for.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of what it would take to shift something in your life (changing jobs, for instance) I recommend the dimmer switch approach to change and learning.  You’ll be more successful with any shift if you can “take it easy.”  There’s no point in creating a false emergency.  Walk, don’t run.  You have time. 

If the change you’re planning is pretty hefty (retirement, losing weight, going on a trip, moving, that IRS thing, starting a renovation project), you’ll do just fine if you slow down.  

Need some evidence that you can slow things down?  A team of physicists working at the University of Glasgow found a way to slow the speed of light.  They ran it through a mask, which changed it’s shape.  The speed of light in a vacuum is constant, but running it through a special mask causes a change to the shape of the photon, making it move through a vacuum slower than unaltered photons.  What’s interesting is that light usually speeds up again after it passes through a medium.  But this time it didn’t.  The mask apparently caused some of the photons in the group to move at a slight angle to others, causing a slowdown for the group as a whole. 


Bella and Business Stacked 3
If light can slow down, even a tiny bit, so can we!  This one little change — slowing down — has more power than most people realize.  Slowing down helps you learn a new skill more thoroughly — and you’ll learn it right.  Take the process of learning piano, computer skills, or tennis, for instance.  Going slowly will help form habits that are long-lasting and automatic.  Slowing down will help you become more effective sooner and ironically, help you reach your goals faster.
When you move slowly, you create new neural pathways in your brain.  Learning to serve in tennis, and doing it slowly creates muscle memory.  Serving the ball over and over in slow motion creates a groove in your mind and body.  When you’re ready to speed it up, your body will know just what to do.  When learning to sing a song, it helps to slow down the notes, and sing the difficult passages slowly over and over.  Then your brain, vocal chords, and breathing mechanism all work together to learn that pattern. 
So, be like the physicists in the experiment, and move your thoughts through a mask.  Slow them down, even if it’s just a little bit.
  1. Remind yourself, “This is not an emergency.”  Removing self-induced pressure can calm things right down.  Last week, one of my younger clients used this statement with herself, and it made all the difference. 
  2. Take one (just one) step today.  This will make your brain stop telling you that you’re doing nothing or avoiding.  Works like a charm.  The doc says you’re dehydrated?  In the morning, pour yourself a pitcher of water when you wake up, and drink it this morning while you work.  Start there.  Hey, it’s a pitcher more than you drank yesterday.  Good for you.  When you get that one under your belt, add the afternoon pitcher.  You’ll feel good about the action you’re taking, and your body may say thank you in surprising ways. 
  3. Be mindful.  Especially at first, pay full attention to what you’re doing.  Later, you’ll know the skill so well that it will be automatic, like driving home and not remembering all the steps you took to get there.
  4. Create a sustainable new practice.  This may mean deliberately holding yourself back at first.  If you’re overly enthusiastic out of the starting gate, you may run out of steam in a few days or weeks, and give up.  Pace yourself.  Create your new lifestyle one step at a time, honey.  You’ll get there.  If you decide to eliminate grain from your diet this year, or cut back for health reasons, give yourself time to collect new favorite recipes.  Start small and work your way into it.  Take grain out of dinner, for instance, or whatever meal is easiest to start.  Don’t try to go cold turkey or you’ll very likely throw in the towel. 
  5. Focus.  Focus.  Focus.  Multi-tasking can actually slow you down.  Turn off your phone for an hour.  Write that article that’s due.  Learn one song.  Swing the golf club twenty five times.  Close your door and write for 30 minutes.  In a recent Facebook post, author Elizabeth Gilbert said she’s writing her next book 30 minutes at a time while she’s on tour with her current book, Big Magic.

Perhaps the biggest prize of all for taking things in bite sized pieces is that it gets us into the habit of succeeding.  When we try to do too much, we tend to stumble.  Who knew that the Dimmer-Switch approach of starting out small could lead to much bigger things?  And isn’t that fun to contemplate?


dimmer switch, focus, In Care of Relationships, mindful, slow, Terri Crosby

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