Why Doesn’t Change Stick?

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A lot of us try – and try hard – to make changes in our lives. We’re keen, we’re motivated, we may even have a step-by-step plan.

For a while, it works. Maybe we successfully start eating more healthily, or take up an exercise routine. Maybe we manage to leave work at 5pm every day. Maybe we take a big step – like starting a family or quitting a job – and hope that this solves problems, like our struggles with time-management or our tendency to procrastinate.

Being inspired to change is great. But it’s hard to ignore the reality that lots of us want to change – and lots of us do start making changes – only to end up backsliding.

So why does this happen?

I don’t think there are any easy answers here, but here are a few possibilities.

We Made the Wrong Change

When you’re trying to change a particular aspect of your life, it’s worth thinking through why.

Maybe you want to be thinner. Is that because you’re motivated by health concerns? Or because you feel that you “should” lose weight to fit society’s ideal?

Maybe you’re keen to quit your job and go back to college. Are you motivated by finally following your dreams? Or do you think that you “should” have a degree?

It’s very easy to end up pushed towards a change because friends, parents or society are putting pressure on us (not necessarily deliberately). The problem is, any initial motivation for this sort of change fades quickly.

Next time you’re thinking of making a big change, give yourself some time to mull it over. What do you really want? Perhaps you don’t actually want to be thinner – you just want to be confident and happy in your own body. (And therapy – or just a new wardrobe – could be your way forwards.) Perhaps you really enjoy your job, and you don’t want to claw your way up the career ladder.

We Gave Up Too Soon

Even if you go for a change which you really want, it’s still very easy to lose your way. I find that when I’m keen and motivated, the path ahead looks easy. I can see my destination shining in the sun, and it looks like a pleasant stroll to get there.

It’s only once I’m travelling that path that I realise there are stones to stumble over, thorns which clutch at my legs. The destination looks further and further away. The path which seemed so straight twists and turns, and I find myself looking back at the way I came … and it looks so much easier there.

Does that happen to you too? It’s probably a good thing that we underestimate how hard change will be: otherwise, we’d never get started! However, it’s important to recognise that the fact that we’re struggling doesn’t mean we’re on the wrong path.

Next time you’re tempted to give up on a particular change in your life, look for a different route forwards. Have you made it harder than it needs to be? Can someone else lend you a helping hand? Can you take a breather to recover your motivation – and then carry on?

We Got Dragged Down

Sometimes, the problem isn’t that motivation is lacking. We’re going along well – but something happens which derails us. It might even seem like all our hard work is undone.

These factors might not be in your control. You get sick and you can’t stick to an exercise routine. There’s a downturn in the market, and your business suffers. A family crisis means you have to set aside your big project.

In those cases, there’s no way you can prevent them happening (though you might be able to take preventative action to lessen the impact). You have to roll with them – and, rather than giving up, accept a delay in the change which you’re trying to implement in your life.

Other times, you’ve got a bit more control (even though it doesn’t always feel like it). You go on vacation and pig out, putting on the 4lbs you’d lost. You let your friends’ negative attitude sap your confidence. You go shopping to make yourself feel better, and put it all on your credit card.

How can you avoid getting dragged down? I’d suggest:

  • Keep your attention on your goal – the change you’re trying to make. Write it out somewhere you can see it every day, or find some other visual reminder to keep close at hand.
  • Take responsibility for the things you can control. I’m great at making excuses myself, but I know that it’s my choice to eat unhealthily, to skip exercise sessions or to over-commit myself.
  • Find sources of support. Friends, family, colleagues or like-minded groups can all make the difference when it comes to going the distance. Being able to accept help is a sign of strength and maturity.

Whatever change you’re currently trying to make in your life, be proud of yourself for giving it a go. Don’t beat yourself up when you find the path gets hard – but find the motivation and support which you need to carry on.

However big and overwhelming your goal might seem – or however small and unimportant – you can go the distance.

Photo by Jesse Kruger