Introducing change

Boris, my cat, has never been a fussy eater. Basically she’s always eaten what I gave her. If I bought a new brand of cat food – after carefully reading the labels, of course, being the food freak that I am – she ate it, no questions asked.

I began to think that all the warnings I’d read in cat books and on cat food packages – ‘Introduce the new food gradually, mix it with the food they know until they’re familiar with the new one’ – were all a bunch of hooey.

Until I brought home a new sort of food recently. Not even an new brand, just the junior version of a brand she liked the adult version of. (Yeah, I’m a bit backward with my chronology. When it comes to raising young cats, I’ve never really found the logic in it.)

Suddenly, she refused to eat. I didn’t understand. She loved the adult version, the junior chunks looked and smelled pretty much the same to me, just the size being a bit smaller, but other than that I didn’t see much difference. When I compared the nutrient breakdown on the labels, it all looked identical. Boris, though, had her own opinion. She took a look at her bowl, sniffed at it and turned away in disdain, her tail upright like an antenna, searching for better than this.

I tried another brand. The information on the label was perfect in my eyes, it looked like good food, with high quality ingredients, and I’d heard good things about it. Same thing. She sniffed at her food bowl and then decided she wouldn’t have any of it. The maddening thing was that when I fed her a couple of morsels on my hand, or put them down for her on the floor, she ate them. ‘See?’ I told her, ‘You like this. This is good food, of course you like it!’ But it turned out to be a bit painstaking to handfeed her morsel by morsel.

So in the end I went to the supermarket on an early Monday morning and bought her the food she knew and loved. Boy, was she happy.

After that, I sneakily mixed some of the new food into the bowl with her favourite brand. Oh, you’d think she wouldn’t find out? Hah! She left five bites in her bowl – exactly, the chunks of new food.

It began to look like a power struggle. I tried again, same thing.

I gave up in the end. I surrendered to her taste and fed her a full bowl of her favourite brand. She ate and was happy.

A couple of days later, I tried again. I mixed in some of the new food – good, premium food with great quality ingredients – into the food she knew and loved. She ate it, no questions asked.

Going with our gut

Sometimes I think it’s like that for us, humans, too. We stick to what we know and love. And who could blame us? Even if new options and changes look promising and totally justifiable on a rational level, when it comes to implementing them, we’re not always at ease with something new. Something unknown. Something we don’t know the ramifications of. We know what’s good for us – on a rational level – but we resist it, sometimes on a very arbitrary and irrational basis, judging with our gut feeling, our sense of smell, our taste.

How to introduce change, then?

Robert Maurer has written a very interesting little book about this topic. It’s called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. The approach he suggests is based on the Japanese principle of ‘kaizen’: introducing change in an incremental way, one small step at a time.

Maurer suggests taking ridiculously small steps – introducing changes that are so small you can’t possibly fail at them. In the case of Boris’s new food, that would mean adding one morsel of new food to her bowl every day, and then two, and then three, until she gets used to the taste of it.

In the case of humans, that might mean cleaning up your desk one minute a day, and then 2 minutes, and then 3 minutes, until you’ve got a new habit of cleaning up your desk daily.

The primitive part of your brain – the animal part, as Boris has so aptly proven – resists change. We stick to what we love, and we don’t like to deviate from the trusted path we know. If you want to introduce change successfully, it’s not a good idea to overthrow the whole structure you’ve set up in your life – or within the organisation you work in. It might shake things up, true, but it will primarily shake up a lot of resistance.

If you can introduce change in a gradual, incremental way – so small that you or other people hardly notice it – chances are the change will be accepted much more organically, and with a lot less resistance.

Think small enough to keep going

As Maurer puts it:

– Ask small questions.
– Think small thoughts.
– Take small actions.
– Solve small problems.
– Bestow small rewards.
– Identify small moments.

Don’t try to change your world in one fell swoop. It will exhaust you and frustrate you. Yes, you can move mountains, but take it one pebble at a time. As the Chinese saying goes, ‘A thousand mile journey begins with the first step.’ Take that step, and then the next, and then the next. Don’t calculate the 999.9 miles you still have to go. Focus on the foot in front of you and you’ll be all right.

Of course it helps to keep your final aim in mind, but don’t blow it up too big. Don’t scare yourself into paralysis. If you take ridiculously small steps, if you make tiny changes you can’t possibly fail at, you will eventually build momentum, and trust, and self-confidence. Nobody likes change much, so sneak it into your trusted paths and habits. Change your world in tiny steps, and you will eventually have moved mountains without hardly noticing it.

2 Replies to “Introducing change”

  1. Thanks for a great post, Mia! Trust Boris to have an important lesson for us. As I’m going through big ongoing changes, it’s both comforting and inspiring to be reminded of the value of baby steps. Or possibly kitten steps 😉

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