Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Only Constant

The Only Constant

In the business world, we often like to parrot the cliche , "change is the only constant", but when it comes to people and their attitude, change is often the most difficult thing to do. Businesses fail because of the inability of the people themselves to change and adapt.

Every now and then, through sheer effort, physical or external change is often achieveable. With the right motivation and discipline, someone can make himself say, lose weight through exercising. But if we were to encourage someone to change his lifestyle or behaviour--stop smoking or womanizing--it is extremely difficult because it requires a fundamental change to our basic character and mental attitude.

Why is psychological change so difficult? Why do we have this aversion to change if we know that it will bring good to ourselves?

First of all, human beings don't behave logically. We can only reason to a certain extent. Everyone has a threshold of susceptibility to reason. When someone is confronted with irrefutable logic proving the error of his ways--more often than not, he will react with denial, anger or even violence. In the case of women (and some men), they will resort to crying.

Secondly, we don't like pain. Especially pain that we have to suffer here and now. We'll rather choose immediate pleasure (even though it will bring us long-term pain). Everyday our choice is always, almost without fail, the instant and immediate pleasure. If there's an interesting book lying on the desk in front of me now, I'll immediately want to flip through it rather than continue doing my work. Discovering a new book is a great pleasure whereas work is very painful because you have to rack your brain for ideas and suffer constant self-doubts and fear of failure in the process.

We will go to great lengths to avoid pain. We are almost like automatons in the way we veer towards instant gratification of the mind and senses--no different from the way moths are attracted to bright lights.

For the smoker, the moment he feels bored, lazy or fidgety, he'll think of smoking. A cigarette brings him instant pleasure and gives him an excuse to avoid work. Years and years of such mental programming makes it extremely difficult to change. No wonder we become automatons. We all think we make intelligent choices in life but most of the time, we are just governed by the mechanics of pain and pleasure.

Is it then a hopeless situation for us? This is a huge subject to tackle--let me for the meantime avoid it by resorting to my favourite excuse ( and immediate pleasure :-)): I'll save it as a subject for another posting.

But let it be said that all is not lost in this battle that everyone has to face. The most important thing that we have to do first is to acknowledge the fact that we are creatures of our pain-pleasure programming. Most people will only change when they encounter a massive immediate pain--e.g. the smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer before he is willing to accept the lesser pain of not lighting up cigarette.

We can only change if we want to change. Wanting to change doesn't mean saying yes today and going back to your old ways tomorrow. We must desire change to the point that we feel it in every fibre in the body. The desire to change for the better must be a motive force driving us forward, everyday, every second, every moment of our lives.

If we can't even make that strong conscious decision, then let's forget about the whole thing altogether. Let's wait for that massive pain to come someday to finally make us change.

Well, we like to think that massive pain might not come. We'll take our chances. Life is to be enjoyed. Which is absolutely fine. But we don't realise that we still suffer in various other subtle ways. Only when these are pointed out to the person as "suffering per se" then, perhaps he or she will realize that there's actually an imperative to change. It's like discovering that you have been paying way too much for your telephone bill simply because you did not bother choose a better subscription plan.

Recognizing and understanding the dynamics of pain and pleasure is that essential first step. Then we need to ask ourselves: Do we really and seriously want to change?

If the answer is in the affirmative, then there could be a glimmer of hope...

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