As of this writing, it’s January 7th and many of us are striving to make some sort of lasting progress with our new year’s resolutions. We’re on a journey to become better versions of ourselves and that’s a difficult thing, making such progress. We know it requires a good bit of change. And now that we’re seven days into the work, that change is starting to really affect us.

But change isn’t all that’s required. In fact, change isn’t really all that important. Change is common. We make changes all the time.

Transitions are what we need. Because transitions are rare. The difference between those two things is the focus of this week’s work and the title of our featured book, Transitions by William and Susan Bridges. We’ll start by explaining the key distinction between change and transition. From our authors,

One of the most important differences between a change and a transition is that changes are driven to reach a goal, but transitions start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in.

If we want to make lasting progress, we must begin with an ending.

Upgrades Not Updates

To illustrate this idea, consider the most common new year’s resolutions:

  1. Diet and eat healthier
  2. Exercise more
  3. Lose weight
  4. Save more and spend less
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby

These are worthy desires and there is copious literature out there to help you achieve each of them. I would argue that these resolutions, like any set of discrete goals, aren’t exactly helpful. As Scott Adams puts it in the review of the best book on self-improvement, “goals are for losers.” He argues instead for a systems approach. That system, built on habits and routines, is the foundation of a transition. It’s the “how” for making lasting change.

Our authors’ work explains the “why”. As in, why this approach works.

So let’s take #1 as an example. If you want to diet and eat healthier, the best way to do so is to adopt a new system for deciding what to eat every day. Whether its a low-carb, Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto, or Daily Dozen method, there are plenty of frameworks out there. Each of them have a distinct way of helping you choose the food you eat. This is the plan. This is the diet.

From there, it’s just simple implementation. Which means fixing your current system for purchasing, preparing, and eating food. Change that system so that you only eat what’s prescribed by the diet. Tweak your weekly grocery shopping method so that you fill the pantry and fridge with only those foods. Then prepare all your meals, eating only those things, and voila! You’ve done it. You’re dieting. You’re eating healthier.

It’s that simple. But, of course, simple doesn’t mean easy.

Those little changes to the system aren’t what makes this hard. The struggle is born from the fact that you are creating a wholesale change in the way you think about food. The superficial tweaks to the system (i.e., the changes) are offensive to the old version of yourself.

It’s like a shift from updates in software, versions 1.1 to 1.9, to a total upgrade to version 2.0.

In such moments, you are compelling a transition. Psychologically, you are pushing yourself into a new state of being.

The old version of yourself was comfortable with less-healthy foods.

The old version of yourself didn’t practice any discipline at the grocery store.

The old version of yourself had less interest in making meals at home.

The old version of yourself had a very different relationship with daily sustenance.

Suddenly, this new version is trying to wedge itself into the crowded space of your mind. It’s trying to push the old version out. Indeed, it’s trying to end the old version’s entire existence. So to go back to our authors, remember that transition starts with an ending. This is what they mean. A transition is marked by the end, the proverbial death, of an old self.

Otherwise, nothing really changes. I know a lot of people who have deep knowledge of nutrition and are still, by their own admission, a few pounds too heavy.

Saying Goodbye To Yourself

It sounds strange, I’m sure, but transition is about shedding the former self. So when it comes to diet and nutrition, the best way to start a transition here is to focus less on what habits you should acquire. Instead, identify the bad behaviors you need to eliminate. Until you are clear on what must end, you will find ways to do both the good and the bad stuff in the same day.

Then, when you understand what bad behaviors must end, don’t stop with just the elimination of the behaviors themselves. Go further and stop the paradigm that compels those behaviors. This is the critical part of a true transition. Behaviors are built on the foundation of how you think about things.

Consider the following: who among us have done very well with our diet on a given day and then decided to “treat” ourselves with some sort of sugar-fat bomb? “I ate perfectly all day today. This is cause for celebration. Time for an ice cream sundae.”

This is a prime example of the old and new self living together. The old self is still emerging because, as you can see, we’re still the kind of people who think food is not only for nutrition but also for reward. Dieting is very difficult when we view food in this way. Because, in this paradigm, dieting is nothing more than delayed gratification. This makes us, living in our old selves, very miserable.

To close, resolutions are popular on New Year’s Day because it’s the start of something. “It’s 2019. I’m going to start doing <fill in the blank>.” That’s nice. It represents a delightful change. Only, for that change to last, it must be as much about the ending of something you once saw in yourself as it is the start of something else.

That doesn’t happen overnight, of course. It comes in stages. We’ll explore those stages tomorrow.