Why Change Can Be So Difficult
Why Change Can Be So Difficult
By Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak
Everyone at some point wants to change something in our life. We may want to change jobs, change where we live, change our beliefs, our attitude or our spousal relationship. We may want to change all of the above. We want to change governments who in turn will change the financial chaos and change policies that limit personal freedom and growth. Change is a well used word and a big concept in the first decade of the 21st century. Our world is crying for change and yet we seem unable to progress with any discernable momentum. Whether at the personal level, governmental or global levels, all change can be difficult and problematic.
While the Nike motto of “Just do it” sounds appealing, it is never that easy.
The creation of change is multi faceted and includes the biggest obstacle of all- our emotions. The habitual nature of humans doesn’t allow us to move easily from one thing to the next. There are a series of internal factors which must be understood and perhaps worked with in order to effect change. Here are a number of key things influencing our ability to change.
Our habitual nature gives us a sense of safety both in our minds and in our physical environment. When anything changes or we are unable to do our routine habits we can feel unbalanced and disconnected. An example is, most people do virtually the same things, in the same order, each morning from waking up through to getting to work. If you sleep in or for any reason cannot do the usual, you may feel off-balance for the whole day. If something like morning rituals can throw us off track, then you may have a sense of why creating bigger change has problems. The human mind seeks to constantly feel safe, our routines and habits assist us in this feeling of safety.
If you take this a step further our external environment plays a big role in our perceived sense of safety. Where we live, work, our family and support systems all make us feel safe. Changes in any of these areas can and will be very upsetting to us and trigger our fear response. While the fear may be getting us ready for a flight or fight experience, it is also telling us to get things back under control and return once again to safety. The fear response is normal but it can cause us to step backwards every time we try to step forward toward changing something in our life. The more fear we have the more we are driven into creating as much safety as possible, and therefore, as little change as possible.
All change, whether planned or unplanned, will involve an element of loss. This is a very important idea to understand and a major obstacle to change. Unplanned change can include loss/death of a parent, child, spouse or best friend. It includes loss of health and loss of jobs. All of these have profound effects on us and they will require a period of grieving and readjustment. Each person is different in how or how long this process can take. Loss, once we move through all of the feelings that may occur, can change us. It may change our behaviour, attitudes, beliefs or physical environment. We don’t have to change, we may become enmeshed in the grief, anger or resentment of such an unplanned for change. We have a choice as to whether we will use unplanned change to propel us forward or we can stay stuck or frozen in our feelings.
Examples of planned change may include moving to new residence, getting another job, living a healthier lifestyle or entering into a new relationship. Basically it can be any number of things; however, the key here is you have planned for it. In order to create this change in your life, no matter how exciting will require you to let go of something. You cannot have a new residence without letting go of the old one. Hence even exciting planned for change will incur loss. Letting go of feelings, memories that have kept you tied to the situation, perhaps letting go of friends or co-workers in order to move on. So even when you want something you must be willing to let go and move through any feelings associated with the old before you will be able to transition into the new.
Living a healthier life style for example requires lots of internal and external changes to be implemented. It is not just about doing physical exercise and eating differently. It involves changing your belief system, your ideas about who you are, your self-image and your willingness to let go of attitudes around food and exercise. These factors play a vital role in successfully implementing a lifestyle change. It is not just about getting off the couch. We have our couch behaviour and food choices because they serve us well and provide comfort and safety. Even when you hate being on the couch but just cannot seem to get off it, there is a payoff for doing what we do.
Everything we do or believe about ourselves and the world has a payoff. Even if it is erroneous or self destructive the payoff keeps us going in the same direction. Our payoffs will be about maintaining a sense of control, a sense of safety and comfort, a sense of who we think we are. In order to move toward and through change we must be prepared to examine what these things are and how they are influencing our decisions and behaviours. We may stay too long in a job or a relationship not because we love it but because it is familiar in our life, giving us a real feeling of security, no matter how painful staying there may be.
No matter what we may be doing, no matter how much we dislike it or ourselves for our behaviour, if there is just one component that provides us with a payoff, we will continue with the activity. Many people are in very painful states and situations but the payoff of familiarity and security keeps them involved. Once we have decided consciously that the payoff is not worth it and we are willing to let go, then we can move forward. If we have not fully comes to terms with letting go, becoming smoke free for example, then we will start, stop and start again until such time as we are clear inside of the benefits of letting go.
While the world cries for change, and the world must have change, as long as we are tied to the old ways of thinking and behaving, we will have a great deal of difficulty changing. It is important to break change down in little tiny steps in order for our psyche to continually come to terms with its own sense of safety. It is not a failure to try something, fall back to old ways and then try again. This is where most people stop trying to make changes. What is happening is your mind is getting ready for the change but it is not quite there yet. So we try again with more awareness and with smaller steps this time.