When we consider changing some habit, some behavior, or even the direction of our life, we often come up with some grand plan for doing so. We think big. It’s the American way. If we want to lose weight, we establish a goal of, for example, 20 lbs. We decide to go to the gym four or five days each week for an hour each day. Of course, for most people this plan lasts for about a week, if that much. When we want to cut back in our spending, we decide to give up buying clothes for the next year. When it comes to our spiritual life, we say we will begin going to our place of worship every week. In each instance our resolve lasts for a very short time, leaving us feeling guilty, down on ourselves, and disappointed. We accuse ourselves of being failures, lazy, lacking in discipline, and generally as losers. Our self esteem drops and we feel worse about ourselves than before we made the resolution. We add one more self recrimination to the long list of past unfulfilled promises to ourselves.
Each time we fail, we feel just a little bit worse about ourselves. Our disappointment in ourselves grows to the point where we may either give up trying to change or we begin to accept ourselves as born losers – failures. We begin to look at ourselves as incompetent. We become depressed and feel hopeless. In order to avoid falling into despair, we may simply give up. We say, “this is the way things are, I am doomed to living my life this way, so I might as well just accept it. ” What we don’t realize is that it may not be that change is not possible, but rather it is our approach to change that may not be working.
Most Americans have a penchant for instant gratification. We want immediate results. We also have a tendency to think, “more is better. ” I have gone to the gym to work out and watched very out of shape men go over to the weight machine for the first time and try to bench press their body weight! Finding they cannot lift this amount of weight, they give up and go off to some other machine. I have heard people say that they are going to lose 50 pounds in three weeks. These folks are setting themselves up to fail.
Many health clubs and diet plans count on the tendency of people to bite off more than they can chew in order to stay in business. They offer big discounts to people to sign up for a year or more in advance knowing that the vast majority will go for a few weeks and then quit. If those who signed up attended every day, there would be no room to accommodate everyone. The same is true for diet centers. They count on people’s desire for immediate results. Yet we all know, in the intelligent part of our brains, that weight loss, body building, and as in learning any other activities takes patience, persistence, and time, in order to achieve lasting results. But our desire for immediate gratification takes over and we set ourselves up for instant failure.
This is where the concept of “tweaking” comes into play. Literally, “tweaking” means to gently pinch or jerk something or someone. Colloquially speaking we use the term to refer to slightly improving or changing a situation. We say, “we tweaked our offer a bit and were able to make the deal, ” or “we tweaked the volume on the audio just a bit for better acoustics. ” The same concept of “tweaking” can be applied to aspects of our lives. We can tweak our lives in small ways. Over time these tweaks add up to significant shifts and changes. In each instance, we can make a slight alteration in what we were doing in order to get a better result. They don’t have to be big changes, but minor adjustments. This concept tweaking, or making minor adjustments to situations or areas of our life, can have a significant impact on the overall direction of our life. A series of tweaks can, over time, have the same overall effect as one significant change without the pain of a large sudden shift.
Consider trying to straighten one’s teeth. We go to the orthodontist to have braces put onto our teeth. The orthodontist doesn’t try to straighten our teeth all at once because the pain would be too great and damage might be done to our teeth and gums. If the pain is too great we will want to quit the process before the job is done. However, through a series of tweaks – gradually tightening the braces - over a period of many months or years we see our teeth straighten and remain straight even after the braces are removed. The same is true when we want to straighten a tree that has been growing crooked. We tweak it gradually over time, each week tightening the brace that pulls the tree into position. If we were to do it suddenly, the tree might break. A series of tweaks does the job of straightening the tree, almost imperceptibly over time.
We can apply a similar principle for straightening our life. Change normally does not occur suddenly, overnight. It occurs by degrees, often without our awareness. When it does occur suddenly, it usually is precipitated by circumstance or necessity. We may be forced to change when confronted with trauma, precipitous occurrences such as sudden economic reversal, earthquake, and so forth. For the most part, however, lasting change occurs gradually over time.
In Tweaking Your Life, Part II, we'll examine four areas of our life: relationships, occupation, physical and mental health, and spirituality, to see how the concept of tweaking might apply.
Dr. Dreyfus has recently published two downloadable books: Someone Right For You: 21st Century Strategies for Finding Your Special Someone and Keeping Your Sanity (In an Insane World).
For forty years Dr. Dreyfus has been practicing as a clinical psychologist and life coach in Santa Monica, California where he specializes in individual psychotherapy, relationship counseling, and sex therapy. For further information or consultation regarding psychological issues, or life coaching, you may contact Dr. Dreyfus at (310) 208-5700, or visit http://www.docdreyfus.com