The Snowball Effect: How to Start Change Now

In many ways, the first small steps you take to change your behavior are the most important. Once you initiate change, it seems to feed on itself, as two psychological triggers are at work:

1.    The mere exposure effect: The more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. Initially unwelcome change efforts will gradually be perceived more favorably as people get used to them.

2.    Cognitive dissonance: Once people take small steps, it’s increasingly difficult for them to  dislike how they act. We don’t like to act in one way and think in another. And once we  begin to behave differently, our self-perception changes and our identity evolves, which  reinforces our new approach.

I call this the snowball effect… changes just seem to take off. And not always because they are the result of “small wins.” Rather, they are automatic forces that kick in as time passes.

It’s therefore essential to start as soon as possible and take advantage of the momentum.

While inertia and the status quo may exert an irresistible pull, at this point you need to muster the courage and just do it. Just get it started.

Ah, yes, but that’s the problem, isn’t it… the status quo feels comfortable and steady because much of our thinking is on autopilot. Routines feel good to us because it frees up our brain for other things, especially creative thinking.

What really helps me to get started when I want to change a behavior, is to become aware of how much I am on autopilot. Having routines can be a time-saver since we don’t have to make choices, we just do it. But it’s also what creates ruts and stagnation.

It actually irks me to be a slave to my habits (just the ones I don’t like). I tell myself, “Who’s in charge here, the autopilot or me?” If I’m more powerful than that, I will actually feel energized by breaking the routine to do something new.

Your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect or complete. At some point, inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it, and small changes will snowball into big changes.

But it’s that first effort to say, “Nope, I’m not going to eat that over sized portion on my plate,” that builds the momentum. At the next meal, you become aware of how restaurants over serve their portions, and you start cutting down meal sizes.

  • It’s that first time you respond with a smile to someone who pushes your buttons.
  • It’s when you stop yourself from explaining everything and ask a question instead.
  • It’s when you stop telling yourself you’re tired and start asking how you can re-energize your tasks.

When I stop looking for how I can cut corners and “routinize” my work flow, and start looking for creative ways to make a difference in the world, then I become more of a change agent.

It starts with the first snowball, and I’m the one who has to set it in motion. Then it becomes fun to watch it grow and gather momentum. What’s been your experience when you want to change something?

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