Why It’s Hard to Make a Change—And How to Make It Easier

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I had a humbling moment the other day when I went to do my year-end review.

I was feeling stressed out by the list of things I wanted to take care of before the New Year, which was getting longer rather than shorter with each passing day. I was convinced I wouldn’t have the time and energy to do everything; my obsessive planning and thinking was keeping me from sleeping well; and as a result my stress and anxiety were ramping up by the minute.

Then I glanced down at my year-end review for 2015 and saw my list of intentions for this last year. Leading it off was: Don’t get so stressed by the small stuff. Let go and find ease. Don’t try to do everything.

Clearly this isn’t a new issue for me. I’ve been aware of it for a long time, even known what to do about it, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always successful in actually doing it.

I bring this up now because the New Year is a time for making resolutions and setting new intentions. It’s also a time for falling short, disappointing ourselves, and beating ourselves up.

I’ve made a lot of personal changes over the years, from transitioning out of work that was unfulfilling to finding my way back to joy from depression. I’ve also witnessed a lot of other people attempt serious transformations. I’ve seen friends, colleagues, and clients heal toxic relationships, move into work they’re passionate about, and create new habits of exercise, sleep, self-care, and more.

In short, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the process of personal growth. What I’ve found over the years is that change is hard. We have decades of experience doing things a certain way, and deeply engrained habits won’t often shift in just a few weeks (or even a few months). Change also requires us to face our fears, sit with our anxiety, and spend more time outside of our comfort zone. No matter how much part of us wants to change, part of us tenaciously resists; preferring the familiarity of the status quo, it tries to pull us back into old habits which, while not ideal, are at least known to have gotten us this far.

Despite all this, there is one thing that can help us make changes more easily. And it has to do with recognizing a fundamental misconception that most of us have inherited about how change occurs.

Here’s how most of us imagine we make a change:

And here’s how change actually takes place:

This knowledge alone can help us make changes much more easily. But we can also use this information in a few specific ways to make our efforts more effective:

1. We can stop beating ourselves up.

 I used to think that the reason I reverted to old behavior was that I wasn’t capable or dedicated enough. Since then, I’ve seen some of the most amazing people I know struggle to make progress, almost always taking two impressive steps forward followed by one rather large step back. Seeing this enough times, I finally realized that change is messy—for everyone—no matter how smart, talented, or well-prepared we are.

This realization helped me forgive myself for my lapses and shortcomings and even see them as a sign of belonging. After all, they connect me to every other flawed and amazing human being on this planet. None of us gets to be perfect, and we don’t need to be flawless to make incredible contributions to the world. When we’re not too busy beating ourselves up over our limitations, after all, we can begin to actually learn how to work with them.

2. We can embrace the low points as a necessary and valuable part of the process.

 Too often when we fail to make progress, we think it’s hopeless and give up. But I’ve seen over and over again how the low points—the slip-ups, backtracking, or times when we feel most stuck—are actually catalysts to growth. It’s in these moments that we’re forced to be humble, recommit ourselves, and take a good look at what’s actually going on. As a result, we learn more about ourselves, discover the patterns that limit us, and begin to develop new responses. We also have the chance to practice patience and self compassion. As one of my mentors says, “These are opportunities to love ourselves more deeply.

3. We can find new ways to evaluate our progress.

 Too often we feel like failures because we still haven’t found our dream job, didn’t meditate for three days in a row, or failed to make it to the gym. Instead of getting frustrated, we can instead ask ourselves what other progress we might be making. For example:

  • Did we learn something new about how resistance shows up for us?
  • Did we discover any helpful ways to overcome it?
  • Did we learn anything about what helps us stay focused?
  • Did we practice resilience and try again the next day?
  • Were we finally willing to reach out for help?

Not all progress has to do with how many job offers we’ve gotten or how well we can articulate our purpose. Often the things we learn along the way to reaching these goals are the most powerful in terms of finding long-term fulfillment.

4. We can recognize that we’re never done, and that that’s a good thing.

I often wish my efforts at change would end with a graduation ceremony and certificate of completion. But the truth is, no matter how successful we are at transforming ourselves, there’s always more work we can do. Rather than taking this as proof of our inadequacy, we can see it as confirmation that we’re exactly where we need to be. We’re always going to be a work in progress with incredible gifts and inherent limitations. So rather than rushing and worrying about our progress, we might as well relax, enjoy the ride, and trust that whatever speed at which change is unfolding is the best possible pace.

5. We can develop a better strategy.

Since the change process doesn’t look much like what we usually expect, it follows that we might benefit from some new strategies in how we attempt to approach it. The right strategy won’t get rid of the ups and downs, but it can help us navigate them more easily and efficiently. There are four things I’ve found that can help us do this well:

  • Support and guidance (from people who have been there before);
  • Community (with people who are going through the same thing now);
  • Encouragement (from anyone and everyone); and
  • Compassion (primarily from ourselves).

The more we can build these things into our strategy, the more effective (and enjoyable!) our efforts at transformation will be.

A Program to Help You Make Your Own Career Change More Easily

Pathfinders Group Coaching offers support and guidance from an experienced career coach (that’s me) plus plenty of encouragement from a community of other people who are also facing their fears and moving into more meaningful work. I’m starting a new group right now, so it’s a great time to join, but there are only 2 spots left. To find out more about how Pathfinders can help you transition into work you love more easily and effectively, click here to apply for a free, no obligation call.

Over to You

What changes are you currently trying to make? What helps you handle the low points? What have you learned from previous setbacks and/or failures?

I’d love to hear from you, and your experience could help others. Please leave a comment below. (As a bonus, you’ll have the option of publishing a link to your latest blog post alongside your comment.)

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