You’re Not Kidding: Change is Hard

We all know someone who’s gotten very discouraged from failing — yet again — at trying to change something about themselves. Or maybe it was you.

Why IS it so hard to change?

It’s so hard to change because even those things you sincerely, desperately want to change are still part of a larger whole – an integrated package of human traits, habits, tendencies, and other ways of being a person that, to be totally honest about it, have resulted in you being alive right now, breathing, and reading these words.

In the most fundamental, human way you are successful – whether that’s quite how you feel right now or not. Your blood is still pumping through your veins, you’re reading this blog page right now, and you’ll probably still be alive tomorrow.  As an organism, you’re a success.

And sure, that’s not much comfort to people feeling badly about their most recent efforts to change, but it’s critical to identifying what really is gumming up the works. So you can start by excluding the two most obvious falsehoods: a) It’s somebody else’s “fault,” or b) it’s your fault because you’re weak, or somehow deserve to be unhappy.

Keep in mind that your true self is wired to be suspicious of, and to actively resist, change. Pick your metaphor – house of cards, removing the wrong pick-up stick – your entire being has a very brittle, yet extremely powerful, self-preservation instinct highly resistant to simply plucking out a single variable for fear of what might happen.

Some of my postmodern colleagues are stampeding to tell you something like, “It’s not your fault!” Ironically, it’s the ones who try to be responsible for themselves and their actions who are the ones most apt to feel the need to torture and denigrate themselves for their failings – and, quite honestly, it’s been an honor to be even slightly helpful at relieving some of those folks of that burden.

We humans are such odd creatures. We have self-awareness, consciousness, a pre-frontal cortex, long and short-term memory, free will, the ability to learn, etc. Changing apartments, cars, geographical location, baseball caps or other fashion makeovers happens constantly for people who are, at the very same time, agonizing over their inability to lose weight, stop smoking, change careers, face a bad marriage, or stop being harsh or negative toward their kids.

This mixed, messy picture that describes most of us, doesn’t need to be “understood” in some perfect self-analysis, and resistance to change certainly can’t be defeated just by “wanting” to, but we do need to start by accepting that both wanting to change, and resisting change, fit hand-in-glove with our human nature.

There’s a lot of talk about “acceptance,” and that’s a piece, too. But acceptance is not the ultimate goal, it’s that we need to pass through acceptance on the way to where we want to go. And it turns out that acceptance of what is doesn’t mean just giving in or surrendering permanently – far from it.

Instead, it means facing, and taking the emotional starch out of our unhealthy relationship with the thing we want to change. Acceptance shifts the energy toward emotional honesty and and clear-eyed movement toward what really works for you.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

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