I’m still not sure why I succumbed.
It was late in the evening. I was unwell. It was a moment of weakness. We had the same name. I must have been nuts.
Even when Maureen rang me the night before to confirm the appointment, I didn’t rescind. It wasn’t until she showed up on my doorstep at 9am armed with a full government mandate to help me reduce my carbon footprint, settled down for her first cup of tea, opened what must have been a 1598 page questionnaire on her laptop, and blithely informed me comfortingly that this would only take 3 (THREE!!!) fully participatory hours that I felt the tentacles of doom grasp me by the nethers and drag me mercilessly towards the abyss. But it wasn’t til she asked me how many minutes a week my printer was used that I realised what ‘abyss’ really meant.
You see, it wasn’t that the cause wasn’t worthy, that the questions weren’t valid, that the intent wasn’t sound or that Maureen wasn’t lovely. All of that was sweet. It was that regardless of the outcome of this survey, I wasn’t going to do anything. I’d already made the changes I was willing to make. I knew what the remaining energy culprits were, and I wasn’t going to change them. I’d weighed the cost, and hung it. The second freezer stays. The pool filter remains on. Yes, every day. I already knew what the incidental changes I could make were (becoming a lights Nazi, exchanging the ugly chandelier lightbulbs for even more aesthetically repugnant swirly energy efficient ones, spending a fortune replacing all the visually innocuous blinds in the house with a few miles of turgid thermal curtains) and I knew equally that I was never going to make them. I didn’t care enough. Nor was I willing to restrict the number of times the kids flush the loo or risk family health by washing the odd dirty knife in the container of stale dirty water. She may have been motivated by ‘all those poor people’ on the other side of the planet who really do understand the meaning of the term ‘water shortage’, but I frankly didn’t see how me compromising our sanitary arrangements was going to help. And if the money was that important, I wouldn’t already be paying a premium for green energy.
And it’s the same with any of the other decisions we make. We all know we should eat less, drink less, exercise more, have more (or less) sex, meditate daily, do our kegels, be more present, play more games, be more creative, have more fun… so why don’t we? We do course after course and read book after book telling us how to be more productive, more dynamic, better leaders, better team players – just better – so why aren’t we?
Because at some deep-seated psychological level, we don’t believe it will meet our needs as well as our current dysfunctional strategies will. Oh, that and the fact that we’d have to break a pile of entrenched habits to do so, which in itself is a massive ask. Habits are efficient. The brain likes efficiency. We don’t keep going on these courses or reading those books because we don’t already know most of this stuff, we go because for whatever reason, we are continuing to choose not to DO any of it. As neuroscience has proved, change is exhausting, and that exhaustion hurts, whether we are individuals or large organisations. But because we think we should do it, or even that it would be fantastic if we did do it – and thus live longer, be happier, be more successful etc – we go along hoping that maybe this time we’ll be inspired enough to actually make the change and make it stick. And then just feel even more guilty when we don’t.
So how do we do it? How do we change our behaviour to become the more worthy effective beings and organisations we aspire to be? By changing our perceptions and our beliefs about what works and what doesn’t, about what’s to our real benefit and what isn’t. By accepting that change is often slow and overcoming our aversion to the discomfort of the new. And most importantly, by engaging more than our rational mind and our guilty conscience. As the Heath brothers would have it, by directing the rational mind, motivating our emotional mind, and by mapping out a clear path to the goal. By creating the possibility of an epiphany, as Christopher Koch’s excellent CIO article on Change Management suggests, or at least making it easy for ourselves. It didn’t matter how worthy I thought Maureen’s cause was. I’d already made the changes I was willing to make, and she didn’t make me care enough to make any more.
She knew this of course, and it made her sad. In a last ditch effort, she implored me to redeem the horrendous impact of my plasma indulgence by turning the TV et al off at the point. Feeling guilty at having been such a recalcitrantly irredeemable case, I swallowed my virtue pill and complied. And promptly failed to record any of my favourite programmes for that week.
So the TV stays on. But we are wearing more jumpers this year…