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Funny the things we remember. I read once, as a kid, about a jet fighter pilot who was testing a new plane. The plane stalled and he went into a tailspin. Try as he might he could not engage the gear to pull the plane up. With the ground fast approaching and nothing to lose he rammed the gear in the opposite direction.

It worked.

This made a great and lasting impression on my little mind. The lesson was this: if something is broken, try something else.

This lesson has wide application in real life. People are often handcuffed by bad habits and bad behavior. The antidote is to ask: is it working for me?

If the answer is no, time to push the gears in some other direction.

Take smoking. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 15% of Americans, some 36.5 million people, are addicted. Some people say smoking is harder to quit than heroin. Yet every day, a small number of smokers figure out how to kick the habit. There are three ways to do this: reduce the craving, increase the penalty, or most effectively, do both.

There is a change paradigm that illustrates this, based on the law of supply and demand that many people remember from Econ 101. In that graph, the forces of supply push up as the price goes up, indicating that most manufacturers will provide more of a commodity the higher the price. The forces of demand push down as the price goes up, indicating that most people will buy less of a commodity the higher the price. Where supply and demand meet is the “equilibrium point,” where price and production will settle.

Instead of supply, however, imagine a line that represents resistance to change (in this case, smoking), such as habit, conformity, stress, inertia, the so-called nicotine high, the notion that cigarettes are “cool,” and many other factors.

Instead of demand, imagine a line that represents a need or desire for change. This would include worsening health effects (such as increased coughing and diminished lung capacity), the cost of cigarettes, learning a friend or loved one who smoked has developed a fatal disease, and acknowledging the facts. As the CDC reports, “Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.”

Where the two lines cross is the point at which change occurs.

I call it the supply and demand curve for personal (in)action.

It may not be strictly scientific (neither is economics), but it has this element of truth, namely that people will only change when the forces for change become stronger than the forces for avoiding change.

The trick is to move the forces for change faster—to talk to people who have lost a lung to cancer, or their survivors, for example. If that sounds extreme, know how difficult and challenging change can be.

Remember, like the jet fighter pilot, if something is not working, shift gears.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...