Change – Why We Find It Hard And What We Can Do To Help Ourselves
We humans find “change” hard. Change means coming out of our comfort zones. Yet without change, we cannot develop.
Being out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable. It is a dangerous place where we feel at risk, vulnerable. We are vulnerable to failure. We are vulnerable to feeling less about ourselves in the eyes of people we care about if we fail.
We often put off change because we look at others’ success and feel inadequate. We do not see the struggles they have had along the way and assume they have superior abilities to us, so there is no point in trying. Change is hard if we are resisting letting go of the past. If we are still stuck there we cannot move forward, hence having done all the work earlier in the year to let go of people and things that no longer serve us.
Practical changes are comparatively easy. It is the emotional ones that are the toughies.
All of this can make change so scary that sometimes we only embark on it if something gives us a massive push. This might be a lifestyle change from a health scare or, in my case, a determination to never, ever let my emotions spoil precious time with my son again. But it is never easy.
The changes people consciously set out to make tend to be big ones, which require changing deeply built in habits, that have almost certainly been going on for years. Just on a practical level, that is going to take time and a lot of focus and hard work. Ex-smokers, for example, will still reach for the packet of cigarettes even though it was six months ago they stopped. As our natural focus levels can be erratic, it is also easy to loose concentration which makes it harder for the new habits to stick.
I read one study which stated that it takes an average of 66 days for any new habit to form. That is an awful lot of practice. By nature, we all look for shortcuts and would rather believe it is possible to change a habit with the snap of our fingers. It you are really committed to changing, you have to first accept that it is going to take both time and constant repetition to achieve it. Bearing this in mind, it is easy to see how repeating affirmation, over and over again, are helpful in facilitating change and making new connections in our brains.
Change can be very unrewarding too. Exercise goals can be easy to calculate, when you can physically manage to go a little bit further each day. Other progress can be less obvious. You can be putting yourself through determined misery on a diet, yet, for weeks, no-one will notice and sometimes even the scales will not change. Non-tangible changes, as so often are the case in personal development, are even harder to see. It is difficult to measure our progress, if we are really remotely wiser, or tougher, or less anxious.
We often make the mistake of being too all encompassing and vague with our targets for change. Not smoking is fairly clear and concrete. “I will do more exercise” or “practice more yoga” is not. There is no measurable goal. In business, we are taught to set S.M.A.R.T goals – that being a mnemonic for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed.
Another problem with the “do more exercise” type of goal is it is totally focussed on the process not the end benefit. Where is the motivation in that?! Properly set goals, with bite size staging posts to celebrate, will give you a much greater chance of success. We need to give ourselves all the help we can. Change is hard and there is only one person who can achieve it – and that is you.
How to get better at Change
It helps to learn and understand the stages of change so that you can manage it better. You can then avoid the pointless waste of time and energy pontificating on a change we don’t intend to make, or worrying the wrong questions back and forth. Instead, you will be more able to focus on getting on and making the change.
Accept change: Change is indeed inevitable. Learning to accept this and other things beyond your control will massively reduce your stress levels.
Build up a tolerance: The less changing you do, the less you will be used to it and the harder you will find it. Deliberately build up your tolerance to change. Set yourself a target of doing one thing, however, small, outside your comfort zone every week. Change will seem a lot less frightening as you become accustomed to it.
Write up a decision tree: If you are finding yourself wasting a lot of time debating about a change, simply sit yourself down, write a pro’s and con’s list or use a decision tree with the pro’s on the branches on one side and the con’s on the others. If the change is worthwhile, once on paper, it becomes crystal clear exactly how strong the argument for doing it is. You can also refer to your list if you find life a bit tough further down the line.
Get your goals right: Make them bite size and, as importantly, celebrate success with each and every one. Make the journey fun!
Cut the safety net: As far as possible, make it impossible to turn round and go back to the way things were before. It may sound a bit drastic but the more bridge burning you do, the more you will only focus forward.
Ask a friend for help: Many of us are resistant to make a burden of ourselves by moaning, so we sometimes deprive ourselves of the help we need the most. Change your approach. Write a list of the top things about the challenge that you are finding really hard. Look at the top few and decide which friend would be best able to help and ask them for help on that one, specific, question. It is a lot easier to ask for help on a particular problem than to consciously abuse your friendship by moaning.
Be kind to yourself: Change is not easy and takes practice. You will almost certainly have the odd occasion when you mess up, go backwards, repeat old habits rather than practice the new. It is really important to be realistic about this. Balance the slip against all the progress you have made and correctly see it as so minor in proportion. Forgive yourself.
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