One of the most-often asked questions I get from clients is, “Why is it so hard for me to change – especially when I’m talking about changes I really want to make?”
It’s one of the great dilemmas we face as human beings. We want to be better people. We want to release old habits that get in the way of us being our best selves. We want to stop reacting negatively to the circumstances in our lives. We want to move forward, make progress.
And yet, seemingly every time we begin to make progress something seems to get in the way. We take one step forward and two, three, or four steps back. What the…?
“Change is automatic, progress is not.” – Anthony Robbins
There are, of course, multiple reasons that this can happen. I’m going to focus on what I know to be some of the most prevalent, and then I’m going to give you some time-tested strategies for getting yourself to take a more proactive approach to change. Who knows? After reading this post, you just might find yourself taking on some of those challenges that you’ve been putting off because it’s been so hard to change.
The first thing that gets in the way of our progress is, of course, us. I always recall the old Pogo® comic where he unceremoniously announces, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” And it’s not so much that we like to sabotage our own efforts. It’s just difficult for us not to.
Reason #1. You cannot rise above your own identity.
As human beings, one of our core needs is the need to be consistent with how we see ourselves, how we have established our identity. If I see myself as abrupt or unfriendly, then chances are I’m going to act that way, even when I know it’s not in my best interests to do so.
I see it all the time in people who say they want to break a habit like smoking or overeating. They work on changing their behaviors, and may have some initial success. But over time, we see them pick those cigarettes up again or reengage in those same unhealthy eating habits.
The reason is they never changed their internal identity as a smoker or an overeater. They cannot rise above the identity that they hold in their minds, and eventually the need for consistency overtakes the desire to change.
Reason #2. You haven’t suffered enough yet.
What? You’re kidding, right?
The truth about this one is simply this – most people will not change until they have suffered enough. The typical reason that we even seek to change something about ourselves is that we are experiencing pain as a result of the issue we’re seeking to change. It could be that people don’t want to work with you because you’re seen as abrupt or confrontational. And even when you know this to be the case, you still are unable to change how you’re dealing with people. So you find yourself feeling like you’re consistently on the outside looking in.
It’s what I often refer to as the pressure cooker. Things can get so bad that it becomes unbearable, and you finally decide you must change. It’s called reaching the threshold level of pain. So you start to make these small changes and things start to feel better. But what happens then? The pressure decreases, and you go right back to your old patterns of behavior. And the cycle continues. Decide now that you’ve suffered enough.
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy
Reason #3. You rationalize.
You know what that means, right? It means you tell yourself rational lies. Maybe it sounds something like this:
“Well, so-and-so isn’t cooperating with me so I have to push harder,” or “People won’t do what I need them to do if I’m not forceful and authoritative with them,” or even, “I’m not so bad, just look at how so-and-so treats people.” Even if those things were true (and they’re probably not) it still leaves you feeling bad. Stop lying to yourself.
Reason #4. You have an ineffective strategy.
You may be committed to making changes, but your strategy isn’t getting you there. You can have all the drive and desire in the world, but it’s not enough if you find yourself running east looking for a sunset.
Monitor what you’re doing to see if it’s actually effective. Revise your strategy, if necessary. Think of it as if you were in the project execution and control phase. See what’s working and what isn’t, and make adjustments
Now that we’ve discussed some of the most common reasons we have for ineffective change, let’s look at four specific ways you can ensure your success in making changes last.
Step 1. Raise your standards.
Demand more from yourself. What does that mean? First, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean do it perfect. So many times when we’re looking to make changes or take on new challenges in our lives, we think we must “do it perfect” or it’s not effective. Actually, I tell clients all the time that perfection is no standard – it only serves to give us reason to give up, fail, criticize ourselves, or never begin, because perfection is unattainable.
Rather than perfection, seek personal excellence. Give your best. That is what it means to raise your standards.
Step 2. Make the change a must.
The only reason you don’t have everything you want is the story you have about why you can’t have it. So often we engage in the dialog of “I really should do this…” We fill our heads with infinite woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. But that is not going to get the job done.
Only when you make the change a must will you invest the kind of effort and energy that will be required to make meaningful, lasting change. Because when you make something a must, you cut off all alternatives, and you send a very different message to your nervous system than a should. And, when you make something a must, then to not achieve it creates a threshold level of pain (see above).
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
Step 3. Stop believing your thoughts.
Uncover your own limiting beliefs. We tell ourselves all the time that we’re not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, or some other “not enough” statement. But just because you think something doesn’t make it true.
In my work as a coach, one of my main goals with clients is to help them discover what is most true for them. And I can absolutely guarantee that all of that not enough internal talk is certainly not true! When you begin to live from your higher self, you come to realize that so much of your internal dialog is nothing more than fear speaking. So stop believing those limiting thoughts. Replace them with something that is more true for you.
Step 4. Take consistent action and condition the new habit or pattern.
Like anything in your life, if you want to become better at something, you must repeat it, practice it, and develop the skills necessary to become more masterful. Repetition is the mother of skill. And the more you practice your new habits, the more ingrained they will become, and the more accomplished you will feel.
And, as I sit here putting the finishing touches on this, one more thing comes to mind. Be compassionate with yourself. Just know that you will struggle and face challenges in making any change in your life – no matter how much you want it. Simply being compassionate with yourself when you fall will allow you to stop the cycle of self-abuse and self-criticism and get back on track. We all slip and fall; that is not the issue. It is what you do after you fall that matters most.
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work