Why It’s Hard To Change

I’m a Change Coach. In other words – I am fascinated by change. I don’t even need a cup of coffee to talk about it for hours. Drop the word and we start to tango! The thing that intrigues me the most is the fact that people’s reluctance or resistance to change, even when they want to. How can we be so opposed to something that is a natural process in life? Aging, time, weather – everything around us is ever changing. Even we are. And yet, when it comes to owning the change in your life, it’s really hard. Why is that?

Psychologists have studied this phenomena for a while, same as sociologists and economists. To understand why we find it so hard and at times hate it, even though it’s a natural part of life. Here are the top theories:

  1. The Wrong Mindset
    You’ve probably heard this before, and now you’ll hear it again: Mindset is everything. If you feel you need to change, but actually feel like you can’t – guess what the likelihood is that it will work out? Humans have a negativity bias – we tend to lean towards negative thoughts and react to negative impulses rather than positive ones. We highlight negative experiences over positive ones and are motivated by negative feelings rather than positive ones. For example, you tend to remember that one bad feedback you got in your lifetime, the one bad grade over a multitude of positive. This has a survival component to it. It was more important for your survival to remember what would kill you or harm you, rather than what made you feel good. The memory of eating a meal that gave you food poisoning or an allergic reaction is way more important than a meal you enjoyed. While handy for survival, it is not a great help in building a happy life or being motivated to change. Imagine wanting to lose weight with the mindset “I hate my body – so I exercise so it looks different” or “I love my body – so I treat it with the exercise it needs”. The second unsurprisingly works better and produces better results. A review of 129 behavior change studies found that the least effective change strategies were started on fear and regret. Real change needs a positive foundation, you need positive, relevant reasons for taking on the challenge.
  2. The Wrong Goals
    Some people have the right intentions and the right tools, but the wrong goals. For example – some people think too big. They start from never running to wanting to finish a marathon within a year. Or losing weight in a couple of months – whereas sustainable weight loss takes it’s sweet, sweet time (more than six months). This miss match of time and goal sets you up for the inability to complete change the way you define it. Which brings me to my other point – we tend to have a all-or-nothing thinking.
    If you didn’t run the full marathon, then it’s like you didn’t reach your goal. And all those hours of running and preparation are just disregarded instead of admiring the fact that you took up running and trained.
    Same with the weight loss example, perhaps you lost some pounds or just took up some new healthy habits. Instead of appreciating all the milestones you have achieved, we focus on not achieving our main goal.
    Another common set back is setting a goal that is too big (“I want to change my life”) or even one that is too small (“I want to own a pair of sneakers). Worst is not having a goal at all (“Something Needs to Change”). Neither will make you feel unaccomplished. Setting the goal is such a vital process, it takes time and exploration and isn’t an epiphany you have when waking up from a deep sleep or a fleeting thought you had during a morning cup of tea. If you don’t take the time to set a goal, you will not be able to recognize the change you seek.
  3. The Wrong Expectation
    Like many things in life, we expect change to be a linear. But in change lies many, many failures and set backs. Not every day means progress and that doesn’t mean that you are not achieving your goal. This ties back to the all of nothing thinking. Change is not positive stream of happiness. It is a putting yourself up to something in which you may feel shame and discomfort. There will be a lot of negative times just as there will be positive ones. There cannot be one without the other. As a Harvard article puts it – Change is a process not an event. And it usually takes longer than we think. Just the goal of drinking one more glass of water a day takes people on average two months to implement (link).

To summarize – we tend to focus on the wrong things when we change. We expect it to happen quickly, all at once and in a positive fashion. All this is wrong. Change is a challenge, but can be done. The right mindset can help.

(And a change coach too 😉 ).

2 comments

  1. Insightful and honest article! I needed to hear the mindset part, particularly our natural inclination towards negativity. It’s so easy to fixate on prevention or even undoing when seeking change, so much so that I often forget the benefits and positive impacts of my goals! Thank you for sharing this with us!

    Liked by 1 person

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