The surprising reason we often quit before we really get started

How many of you can relate to the following experiences?

You decide to clean out your closet, but two hours in your closet and now your bedroom are both in disarray.
Wanting to get healthier and have more energy, you give up refined sugar. A day in and you have a massive headache and are falling asleep in the middle of that afternoon meeting.
You are done being a pushover in your family and decide to set some new boundaries with your sister, hoping to improve your relationship. Now she and the rest of your family are upset with you and you’re wondering why you tried to make these changes in the first place.

We’ve all experienced some version of this story. You’re unhappy with an aspect of your life and decide to do something about it. You make a change to your habits with the expectation that things will get better. After a short while, things are not improving but, in fact, become more difficult and upsetting, in general causing you to feel worse not better.

So you quit.

I mean, any rational person who has made a change and notices things are only getting worse would understandably quit. Changes are hard, why would we stick with something if it’s only making our situation worse?

But why does this keep happening? And what can we do to make changes that truly improve our situation?

To understand this, we turn to a concept I first came across in the fantastic book by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, Thanks for the Feedback. (If you haven’t read this book before, I highly recommend it!). The authors describe a phenomenon called the J-Curve and explain how when we try a new behaviour we typically expect it to improve our happiness, but more often than not it makes us less satisfied before we are able to notice any improvements.

This initial dip happens as we adjust to the change and this is understandably discouraging. It often leads us to quit before we see any real improvements.

To overcome this, we need to do the following three things:

  1. Expect things to get worse before they start to get better.
  2. Commit to trying the change for a long enough period of time to accurately see the long term results.
  3. During the dip, stay motivated by reminding yourself why you wanted to make the change in the first place.

With preparation, honesty, and perseverance you will be able to ride out the initial adjustment phase and get to your goal!