If you are searching for more happiness, fulfillment and achievement in life, I’d like to congratulate you. I mean it. Why are congrats in order? The fact that you are on this search says that you are already doing great! Remember learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Starting from the bottom of the pyramid and climbing to the top layer-by-layer, it describes human needs. At the bottom in the first layer there are the physiological needs like air and food. Next comes safety, then belonging, followed by esteem and finally at the top is self-actualization which is where you “maximize your potential” (David, 2015). It’s why you are reading this article. Self-actualization represents the search for further achievement in some area of your life.
Since increasing fulfillment is on your mind, you are open to the idea of change. You’ve recognized you’d like to evolve into a new you. But why is it so difficult? Knowing how to do things in life represents experience and knowledge and that makes us feel good. Changing, on the other hand, implies we have to throw that “know how” out the window and start from scratch. That’s not so comfortable. Let’s explore a few reasons change is difficult, how we can take action toward the changes we desire and what we need to sustain change and fulfill on our goals.
Why is change so difficult?
As you look around in your immediate circle, reflect for a minute on people you know who talk about making changes. Whether the focus is on weight loss, career growth, relationships or bad habits, it seems we all want to change in one way or another. Making changes is even in our annual holiday traditions with New Year’s resolutions. In fact, some of us spend all year hoping things change and then try to leverage this one day to overhaul our lives. New Year’s Day comes and goes and those goals we were tackling in January are long gone by the first of March. Why is it that we have good intentions but come up short on consistency?
In the book The Mastery of Self, Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. tells stories of Toltec teachings. In one example he says, “…repetitive actions… limit the mind’s ability to perceive all available options.” So whether it’s the morning commute, our routine breakfast or the way things get done at work, we form routines. These patterns bring us comfort in knowing the answers. But when we get cozy in our comfort zone, what are we learning? Routine may be comfortable but it’s not the place for growth. In his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Dr. Joe Dispenza confirms this by stating, “… to leave the familiar life that we have grown accustomed to and waltz into something new is like a salmon swimming upstream: it takes effort — and, frankly, it’s uncomfortable.”
It’s no wonder making changes in our lives presents a challenge. Recognizing that it’s normal to be challenged by change, accepting it and being OK to sit in the discomfort awhile can help move us forward toward accomplishing our goals.
How do we take action toward change?
We can all identify a change or two we want to make but taking action to make it a reality is another story. How do we get started? What if we don’t feel like it? What if we are in action now but worry about maintaining? Before getting started on a goal, check in on obstacles such as readiness, procrastination and openness to learning.
One question to ask before getting started with change is, am I ready? Dr. James Prochaska spent decades measuring behavior change and came up with what is called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. It states that there are five stages to change including (1) Precontemplation: not ready, (2) Contemplation: thinking about it, (3) Preparation: preparing for action, (4) Action: actually doing it and (5) Maintenance: maintaining a positive behavior (Moore, 94). So if you check in with yourself honestly and find out where you are regarding readiness then you’ll know where to place your focus. If you are not ready, then what will it take to get ready? If you are already doing it, then what will it take to maintain? Brainstorm actions based on readiness. Write down your plans and check in with yourself on a regular basis to see how it’s going.
Another obstacle is procrastination. We all have good intentions. How many times have you said to a friend or a loved one, “I know you didn’t mean to forget our dinner together/run late/etc. but it’s still disappointing.” They may not have had the intention to disappoint you but it happened. Intention is one thing but action is another. Action and follow through have positive results for you and the people in your life. The only way past an obstacle is to go through it. So when you make a commitment, just do it! Psychology professor Tim Pychyl acknowledges this saying, “Not only do people seldom do what they believe in but all too often people don’t do what they intend to do. They do what is convenient (what they feel like).” As a solution to procrastination he advises, “Want to reduce dissonance about not working on an intended task? Just get started. Simple strategy. Simple truth” (Pychyl, 2009).
Making change and sticking to it also involves being open to learning new things. Recognize that despite your many years on this planet and all of your life experiences, much of life is “outside our awareness.” There is a world of experience out there beyond what we can imagine or already know. The only way to grow is to learn. And the only way to learn is to remain open to doing so. As T.H. White writes in The Once and Future King, “…learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails…. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” You don’t know it all— none of us do, nor will we ever know all there is to know. That’s where the adventure lies!
What do we need to sustain change?
If you are serious about making a life-changing behavior come to fruition here are a few steps to consider. Simply, be in practice with the new behavior, make it habitual and get a coach. I am confident that if you do these three things you can achieve whatever your heart desires.
As children we’ve all heard, “practice makes perfect” and as adults this maxim remains. We often expect to start off something new knowing it front and back. That’s not logical. We cannot expect to know how to do something we’ve never done before. So, practice, stay in action and learn to embrace failure and mistakes. As time passes we gain confidence and lo and behold, “look ma! I’m doing it!” We need to practice without expectation. Just dive in. In the Yoga Sutras: The Means to Liberation Dennis Hill states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when we attend to it for a long time, without break and with… deep devotion… Remember this:… (the practice) is for a long time, without interruption, with your whole heart.” Take on your goal with dedication and you will soon land on your intended results.
Second, create habits around it. It’s said that it takes 66 days to build a new habit. That’s two months minimum to be able to sustain a new behavior. How many of us give ourselves this much time before we throw in the towel? Give it time and let it build. As historian and writer William Durant is credited with saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Build your new habit with a minimum of 60 days and then give it another 60 days and see how you feel.
Finally, the path that leads to sustainable change is partnership. Having a partner, like when you have a coach, can increase your success. With a coach, you’ve got an ally, an accountability partner, a system in place to lift you up when you fall. And you will fall. We all do with new things. It’s part of the change process. You might be surprised how effective you can be once you declare your actions to your coach and you know that you’ll be reporting on progress regularly.
So, we’ve explored some of the reasons we seek change, how to make change happen and what we need to sustain change. My question is, what would you like to change? What are you seeking in your life? Is it career-related or does it have to do with meeting certain wellness goals like losing weight or adding exercise to your day? If you do have a habit you wish to change, I commend you! You are someone who is striving to learn and grow. Now, what action are you ready to take?
David. (2015.) Maslow: The 12 Characteristics of a Self-Actualized Person. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sze/maslow-the-12-characteris_b_7836836.html
Dispenza, Joe. (2013). Breaking the Habit of Yourself: How to lose your mind and create a new one. California. Hay House.
Durant, W. (n.d.) Brainy Quote: William Durant Quotes. Retrieved from: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/willdurant145967.html
Hill, D. (2015). Yoga Sutras: The Means to Liberation. USA. Trafford Publishing.
Moore, M., Jackson, E., Tshannen-Moran, B. (2016) Coaching Psychology Manual. Philadelphia. Wolters Kluwer.
Pychyl, T. (2009). Procrastination, Guilt, Excuses and the Road Less Traveled: Why the guilt of procrastination doesn’t lead to action. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200911/procrastination-guilt-excuses-and-the-road-less-traveled
Ruiz Jr., M. (2016). The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom. Texas. Hierophant Publishing.
White, T.H. (n.d.) Good Reads: The Once and Future King Quotes. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1140206-the-once-and-future-king