“Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view. It's not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.”
The best of intentions
We all say it around the New Year. “That’s it! I can’t take it anymore”. “This is my year!” This is the year I actually make the change (for a new job, lose the weight, declutter, leave a bad relationship, etc.).” We have the best of intentions and consciously we recognize that something is not working for us or is negatively impacting us, but then something happens and we give up.
We then beat ourselves up for not making the change, or those in our lives roll their eyes and think “I knew she wasn’t going to change”. The belief is that you weren’t motivated enough, or committed enough, or you didn’t want it badly enough, or else you would have made the change already.
As a therapist, I see it all the time and try to temper people’s expectations or provide the awareness that change is not as easy as we want it to be. Change is also not as large scale as we think it should be. It is amazing to think about how much suffering we go through for so long but the reality is that it makes sense if you think about it on a subconscious level and you recognize how easily one slips into the life that is one of pain.
The Devil we know vs. the Devil we don’t
Why is change so hard? Because of the fear of the unknown. Think about this. Your goal in life is to stay alive. It’s evolutionary. Our internal mechanisms are set up to protect us from death and/or bad things.
If you get sick, your body gets into action to reject the disease and heal. If you eat something wonky, you will throw up to reject the spoiled food. Yes, you may help the situation by taking Tylenol or Pepto Bismol, but your body gets into action to preserve itself.
Your body will take the easiest way out to avoid dying or getting hurt. And while it happens with our bodies, it also happens cognitively with our perceived stressors.
If you lose your job unexpectedly and fear being homeless, you will take the low paying job. If you fear being alone, you will enter into the unhealthy relationship that will keep you from being alone. If you’re stressed, you will eat the most comforting thing that will alleviate said stress. Many of the choices we make are designed to keep us safe and alive.
And things enter into our lives harmlessly at first, because we tell ourselves that it’s temporary, that we can control it, or we’ll deal with it later, once things calm down. But once something is introduced, your body and subconscious are not ready to let go. And if the change is perceived as hard, forget about it, your body and subconscious mind are not going to let go of the “easy” fix.
Part of the problem is also that we thrive on habits and once a habit is formed, we automate and it is very difficult to change because it disrupts our routine, even if that routine is unhealthy or dysfunctional.
Change is hard because you are asking yourself to do something where you don’t know the outcome. Yes, eating the donut everyday may kill you but you tell yourself NOT eating the donut will kill you. Or you’ll deal with it, once the doctor tells you that you are diabetic, and even then, you may not give it up.
Change may also be hard when you DO know the outcome and the change is perceived as too hard. You recognize that a relationship is abusive and it’s awful, but when you think about the alternative and begin to do a cost benefit analysis (i.e. losing financial stability, having to downsize or leave your dream house, the stigma or shame of being divorced and having to figure out custody, etc.), the idea of staying in an abusive marriage doesn’t seem so bad.
So what are we to do? Are we destined to a life of suffering? Should we even bother to change if evolution is working against us? Recognize that change means inherently changing your identity.
Change means that you and your life will be different. In the beginning it can be difficult to reconcile this. You are asking yourself to intentionally think and behave in ways that you have forgotten about or are not natural to you. This can be scary and you have to allow yourself to acknowledge this fact and your fears around it.
Remember though, the habits we are trying to change and that got us in trouble happened without us thinking about it or they happened when we thought it was harmless (I’m talking to you nightly bowl of ice cream). These habits often showed up, took hold and offered us some sense of safety and comfort. And suddenly now you are an overweight couch potato.
You didn’t sign up for that identity but yet here you are. By choosing to implement change, you are making an intentional decision to think, behave and seek a new identity. So, let’s explore ways to start the process.
1. Different=different. It does not always equal hard.
Part of what makes change scary is that we associate doing something different with doing something hard. As is our natural tendency, we tend to see only the bad parts of change.
Losing weight means I have to get up early and give up my favorite foods. Leaving my job means I have a new boss and I may have a longer commute and I may not be able to do the job. Starting a new business may mean that I will fail or have to give up my free time. Leaving a bad relationship means I have to start over again.
All of those possibilities exist, but ask yourself what good could come out of this change? Losing weight could mean my knees don’t hurt going up the stairs. A new job could equal being valued and having a manageable workload. Starting a business may mean I can go to my kid’s soccer game.
For every negative balance out with positives.
2. Visualize yourself in the changed state and identify the limiting beliefs.
Walk through a typical day, with the implemented change in place. As you “see” yourself, notice what limiting beliefs, fears, barriers show up.
Are there thoughts of “I’m too old to do this”, “this will never happen”, “I can’t see this actually happening”, “I don’t know how I’m going to get to this place”, “what are people going to think?”, “I don’t even know where to begin”.
Write them down. Sit with these fears and these thoughts. They are real and they are valuable in helping you recognize why you may have a hard time making the change.
3. Challenge the limiting beliefs.
As you review these limiting beliefs, become curious and ask yourself “what would have to happen in order for my vision to come true?” Most of the time the initial answer is superficial and self-protective, like “I’d have to be 20 years younger”, or “I’d have to win a million bucks” or “I’d need an extra 2 hours in my day”.
Go beyond this and really dig deep. The answer may be “I’d need to go back to school” or “I’d need to network with people”. It may be even be that you need to find an extra 2 hours in your day.
Let these solutions show up and dig deep to find 2 or 3 more solutions.
4. Ask yourself what you are afraid of.
Part of the difficulty of change is that we’re scared of the unknown. So, shine a light on it. When you think about your fears, often they are related to external factors.
We fear what other people might think. We fear being perceived as a loser. We feel like we have to do it a certain way like other people have done it. We fear being perceived as a fraud. We fear that we may not know how to do something or that we don’t know what we’re talking about.
Truly sit with what scares you.
5. Seek out stories of people doing seemingly impossible things.
Google “50 year old entrepreneur”. Seek out mentors who have found success in your field without getting a bachelor’s degree. Listen to podcasts of people who have changed their bodies doing things for 20 minutes a day. Often, we think things are impossible because we see one person doing something their way and we can’t see how to replicate that.
Recognize that there are multiple ways to get to the end, some conventional and some unconventional. Be open to all experiences and points of view.
6. Do a brain dump.
Make a list of all of the things you would have to do in order for the change to take place. This is not a to do list. Rather, it is asking you to identify what you THINK has to happen. Most people will identify large scale acts.
For example, if someone says that they want to become a writer, they may write “take a writing class, get a pen name, get a desk, get a new laptop, find a publisher, quit my job, etc.” and on it goes. You can see how this feels overwhelming and impossible to achieve.
Challenge yourself or share this list with someone you know. The reality is you may just need to start with finding 15 minutes a day to sit with pen and paper. And write every day until you get to 1000 words. Maybe you need to google “book formats chapter by chapter”. Or maybe you find a book at the library about how to write.
See the small steps in these big ones.
7. Take action.
Stop overthinking and just do something. Mel Robbins is an author and motivational speaker who preaches the idea of the 5 second rule. Stop thinking about all the ways in which something will not work, and instead, count backwards from 5 and just GO.
Of course, you want to take aligned action and do something that you can be consistent at doing on a daily or weekly basis, but the point is to stop making excuses and just do it.
8. Be consistent.
Choose to find DAILY ways to implement the change. I often recommend that you seek a window of 15 minutes to do something. It allows for you not make excuses.
9. See the end result.
Don’t be obsessive about this. Part of what detracts us from making change is that we don’t see the HOW in something. “HOW am I going to get from Point A to Point B?” By engaging in that exercise, you allow fear and self-doubt to show up. You also invite limited thinking and options to show up.
Often, we think that there is only one or two ways to get to the end result, when there could be hundreds, if not thousands of ways to get there. Instead, see the end result and feel how it feel living in that end result state. Train your brain to quiet the noise.
When, for example, you are overthinking things, you may say that you want to change your health. You may see yourself in a bathing suit but if you haven’t trained your brain to quiet the noise, then you see getting up at 5AM and having to work out for two hours and eating salad and not going out to happy hour and getting on the scale.
Challenge yourself to see health in different ways and to see the end result. See yourself riding a bicycle on the boardwalk. See yourself taking a roller skating class. See yourself going to Zumba or country line dancing night at the local YMCA. See yourself doing a Pinterest search for vegetarian meals or healthy chicken nuggets.
Don't limit yourself to hard and predictable options. Find mental images that excite you about the possibilities of what your life could look like.
Train your brain to just see the end result. You are showing your subconscious what is possible and often amazing things start to happen.
You may realize, without even thinking about it that you are starting to drinking smoothies. You may get up at lunch and start walking around the block. You may turn down the extra piece of cake at work. You may come across an ad for a trainer who does salsa dancing.
And before you know it, you’re living in the space of greater health, without realizing it.
10. Treat yourself with kindness.
I cannot stress this part enough. Change happens when we have people in our corner cheering us on and believing in what’s possible. Have you ever felt really good when someone sees something in you that you cannot see in yourself? Don’t you go the extra mile when someone tells you to keep going and that you can do this? Well, that thinking has to come from you.
You have to believe in yourself long enough to push just a little bit harder. You have to believe that you are capable of hard things. Tap into moments and memories when you did the hard things and remind yourself that you are capable, even though it’s scary.
Remind yourself of people who have complimented you. Talk nicely to yourself and fill your mind with positive affirmations.
Change can be scary but what awaits you on the other side is a life full of excitement and peace
My name is Edwige and I am a therapist who specializes in mom issues (stress and anxiety) and trauma. Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.