Choices change you

The other morning I came into the kitchen and Mike was elbow deep in soapy water. It wasn’t shocking to find him cleaning the dishes, but it was shocking that he was doing it without me asking him first. He then said, “I realized something. I usually wait until you ask me to do the dishes, or I wait until there are no more clean dishes and I’m forced to clean them. Either way I don’t make the decision, it’s forced on me. That just reinforces my negative beliefs about myself (I kid you not – these were his exact words). But this morning I made a choice to do the dishes and it made me feel better. It made me feel like I’m a man who makes good, helpful decisions.”

He made one good decision in the morning and it snowballed – He was walking around thinking “I make good and helpful decisions” rather than, “I’m lazy and I’m forced to do things I don’t want to do.” You can imagine the different actions you would take with those two contrasting thoughts. Later that day he made the bed without any prompting.

I walked with him to work that morning, and we were talking about a large bump in the road at the cross walk. We trip every time we cross that street. Also I’ve seen two people have serious injuries from falling there – one man was taken away in an ambulance, his face covered with blood. Mike said it would be easy to report it to 311. I thought, “Nah, I’m not that kind of person.” But then I thought, why not be that person? So I reported it and it made me feel good. I hung up the phone and thought, “I’m a person who does things.” After that I signed up for my Flamenco classes, and classes for the Alexander technique. I also made a few follow up phone calls which I had been putting off because I hate talking on the phone. Once I decided, “I’m a person who does things,” it was much easier to take action. And all it took was making a choice to do or believe differently.

In, Switch How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the authors say that once a person makes a small change it’s much easier to make larger changes. For instance, in the 1960s, researchers from Stanford University had assistants go door to door asking people to put hideous billboards on their lawns. The billboard was part of a  “Drive Carefully” campaign. 83% of the people said no. 2 weeks later, a different research group went to the same houses and asked those people if they would put small postcards which said “Be a safe driver,” in the window of their car or home. Almost everyone said yes. When the original researchers came back 2 weeks after that and asked to put up the hideous billboards again 76% of the people said yes! The little yes paved the way for a big yes.

And then an even stranger thing happened. Researchers went to a different community and asked people to sign a petition to keep California beautiful. Almost everyone signed it. 2 weeks later the people with the hideous billboards came and asked to put them up. 50% of the people said yes, even though the billboards had nothing to do with the petition. Freedman and Fraser, the men who conducted the experiment, wrote, “Once the home owner has agreed to the request, his attitude may change, he may become , in his own eyes, the kind of person who does this sort of thing, who agrees to requests made by strangers, who takes action on things he believes in, who operated with good causes.”

Just a little decision can change the way you think about yourself, and can help you make the bigger, harder decisions that are more inline with the person you want to be. So today I ask you to do something differently. Think of a person you look up to and do something they would do. You will start to see yourself differently. And then go with it!


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