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Most of us have something in our lives or about ourselves that we’d like to change, even if it’s just something small. If not, we should. (See: Why We Need to Change the Way We Look at Change)
But we’ve all heard and seen it before and have probably experienced it firsthand. Change is hard. People hate change. People are resistant toward change. I learned this after running a survey in which 390 people answered a question about change: what they would like to change in their lives and where would they start?
The thing is that’s not true for all change. Many of us will willingly and often joyfully embrace change like getting a new phone, moving to a new house, getting married, and having kids. Why is that? Why are some changes welcomed with open arms and “easier” for us than other changes?
It’s because it’s the changes in our behavior that are hard.
In this article, I list 22 reasons why change is hard. First, let’s look into the five stages of change.
The 5 Stages of Change
These five stages of change are based on The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM Model) created by James Prochaska, a renowned psychologist. Change does not normally occur in a linear way with these stages. Jumping back and forth between these stages is often part of the process.
This is the first stage of change in which we become aware of something that is needed or desired to change. There is not yet any conscious intention for change in this stage. I mostly talk about this stage and getting out of it in this article. Being able to recognize a problem or potential for improvement and instill internal motivation and desire to make the change is crucial to getting past this stage. This can be done through inspiration and education of the disadvantages of continuance and advantages of change.
At this stage, a person acknowledges the need or want for change. This is where you want to change, but you’re not ready yet, or you don’t know if you really want to follow through with the change. There is an internal debate going on about whether the change is worth it or not. People are usually stuck in this stage due to fear and uncertainty. This stage can be overcome by doing a cost and benefit analysis – weighing out the pros and cons of continuance or moving forward with change. It could also be helpful to look at the potential obstacles that could get in the way as well as solutions to overcome them.
At this stage, we make the decision to follow through with change. This is where we start our first steps toward making change. For example, this could mean signing up for a gym membership, researching and learning about the desired change through buying books and reading blogs or looking into seeking professional help.
4. Action Stage
At this stage, plans are being put into action, and persistent action is in motion. A lot of effort and commitment is required for this stage. Some form of behavioral change has occurred. Adjustments have been made in different areas of life to accommodate this change. This stage normally takes about six months. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the progress and changes, however minor, that happen in this stage and to keep the momentum going through positive reinforcement and looking back on how far you’ve come. It’s okay to make mistakes in this stage and to accept them and forgive yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
This stage is about sustaining the change and making it last in the long-term.
At this stage, significant change has taken place for the last six months. We realize at this stage that change is possible! Change is now more likely to be permanent. It is still possible to relapse or bounce back to old behaviors if this stage is ignored although it’s less likely at this stage than at the action stage. Trying to avoid mistakes yet keeping a healthy self-image when making mistakes to make better decisions in the future is important during the maintenance stage.
Now, let’s move on to the 22 reasons why change is hard.
Let’s get one thing out of the way though that many believe is a reason we are resistant to change or are failing at behavior change.
Change is not hard because we’re lazy. It’s simply not true. We’ll look into why what appears to be laziness is not and what it actually is instead.
Why Change is Difficult
1. The way we look at change
We tend to look at change as one big thing when in reality it’s rarely ever like that when it comes to changes in ourselves and our behavior. Behavioral change is often gradual and slow.
Behavior change is a big thing but it rarely ever happens all of a sudden. When we look at change as one big thing, it appears more daunting, and therefore we’re more likely to avoid it.
We can also have some limiting beliefs and misconceptions about change that keep us from pursuing change.
2. We don’t know exactly where we’re going
What this means is that we’re too vague. “I’m going to start exercising this year” is vague. “I’m going to go take a 30 min walk at 8 pm every night.” is specific and better. “I’m not going to eat as many sweets” is vague. “I’m going to cut pastries and sweets out of my diet.” is more specific. When we’re vague, we fail to set forth any actionable, specific plans.
3. Self-control & discipline is exhausting
A study mentioned in the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard gathered a group of college students to participate in this study. Each student had a bowl of radishes and a bowl of cookies in front of them. One half was told to eat the radishes, and the other half was told to the eat the cookies. The researchers left the room while each student ate either the cookies or the radishes to try to induce temptation, especially for the radish eaters.
Then, the participants were given an unsolvable puzzle where they had to figure out how to trace a shape without lifting the pencil or retracing lines. The researchers wanted to see how long they would try before they gave up. The radish-eaters gave up after only eight minutes which was less than half the time the cookie eaters spent. The cookie eaters gave up after 19 minutes.
What this study and multiple other studies described in the book found is that self-control is exhausting. It’s an exhaustible resource. It’s draining. What looks like laziness is often mental exhaustion.
4. Making changes is work
Change requires effort and habit. Even if it’s just getting one thing done. The habit, in that case, is the habit of taking action. But more often than not, it’s a daily thing.
It’s a muscle that has to be exercised to become stronger.
Change is also not free. It comes at a cost. There is a price you pay. That price is work/struggle, discomfort, uncertainty, and judgment. To some people, it’s not worth it. How their life is is “good enough” for them. They may be “just fine” with how life is. There’s no need for change, no motivation or desire for it.
Good is the enemy of great.
5. We don’t want it that bad
It’s whatever. It’s not that serious. It’s not deep. It’s not a priority. It’s not urgent. You could live without it. “I’d be nice if I could lose some weight.” or “It’d be nice if I could be more confident and outgoing.” Then when it comes down to it, it’s “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it someday.”
The consequences of not changing are also usually not life-threatening. When it comes to changes involving health at least not right away. It’s not that important to us. We can be ignorant of the fact that we’re missing out.
We may also know the costs associated with change, and it makes us want to go after the change even less.
Like mentioned in the previous point, we don’t care for having it great or being great because we’re good.
6. Our motivation is not strong enough
We can often believe that negative motivations are stronger catalysts for change than positive emotions. The fact is that the opposite is true. A review of 129 behavioral change studies consistently found that the least effective strategies for change were motivated by fear and regret. Motivation should stem from positive emotions and reasons. It should also be motivated with a deeper purpose such as, “I want to be able to live longer to spend more time with my partner and watch my kids grow up.” rather than, “I want to look better in a bikini.”
7. We don’t see the results right away
Behavioral change is not automatic. It’s not like we just flip a switch and all of a sudden we’re just changed. No, it takes repetitive work. And it’s harder to see the change when it’s slow and gradual.
You may have noticed this in your own life. Have you ever gone through a transformative couple of months or a year? Whether it was the result of a breakup, a new job, starting college, etc. Those around us don’t seem to notice that much or say anything about our change. However, when we come into contact with someone that we haven’t seen in a while before our transformation, they tell us how much we’ve changed.
It’s harder to see small changes when we’re not fully aware.
However, as outlined in the book The Compound Effect, it’s the small little consistent changes that turn into big changes over time.
8. We don’t want to take responsibility
This happens when we partake in the blame game. Blaming our parents and our upbringing. Blaming things that happened to us. Blaming our circumstances. We see our behavior as a result of outside influences instead of taking control into our own hands. While it’s true that we are affected by these things, we are not merciless victims to the will of others and our circumstances. We don’t want to believe strongly enough in the possibility of change because that means that we then have to take full responsibility for our behavior. It can be scary but liberating to have this realization and take back the power.
9. Our logic and emotions are not in alignment
In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, there’s a powerful metaphor about ourselves when it comes to change. The elephant and the rider. The elephant is our emotional side that goes after instant gratification. The rider is our logical side that looks out for our future selves. The rider is technically in control, but the elephant is bigger and more powerful than the rider. When the two are not in alignment, it makes change exhausting and difficult. While the rider wants to wake up an hour earlier and be productive, the elephant wants to continue sleeping in the comfort and warmth under the blankets. The elephant and the rider need to work together to bring forth successful and lasting changes.
10. We spend too much time planning
We spend too much time in the preparation stage. This is often called analysis paralysis. It’s also a rider problem in the elephant and rider metaphor. We can’t make decisions for where we want to start or what exactly we want to do. Or we spend too much time creating the perfect plan and waiting until the time is right.
11. We give up
When we decide to give up trying, we find ourselves in the first stage of change: pre-contemplation.
While giving up can sometimes be a good thing, it’s often not the case when it comes to eliminating negative behaviors. After multiple attempts at trying to hit the gym and then stopping, we feel defeated because of all the failed attempts. All it takes is trying again to get closer to reaching that goal, even if it means trying and failing 100 times and succeeding the 101st time.
There are multiple now successful entrepreneurs that have previous failed businesses.
It’s okay to give up different methods, but not to give up at least trying. This goes into our next reason.
12. We don’t accept failure or mistakes
We often don’t know or ignore the fact that failure is just a part of success. It’s a part of the process. If I’m feeling pretty bad about where I’m at or feeling like a failure, I just tell myself it will make for an even greater success story when I do reach my goal(s).
13. If we can’t do it once, we can’t do it at all
If we fail at starting a business, we think, “Well, maybe I’m just not cut out for this.” This is having an all-or-nothing type of thinking and mindset. “If I fail, it means I just can’t do it.” It’s a cognitive bias. I go more in-depth into cognitive biases and avoiding them in this article. We have to be willing to accept mistakes and failure as part of the process and know it does not mean we can’t change our lives.
14. We lack resourcefulness
We fail to use the tools around us. We limit ourselves in our attempts. This can be in the form of refusing to try something new or something different that might work better. Or even just not knowing about tools that are available to reach our goal of change. Making changes oftentimes at the very least requires the proper knowledge.
15. We focus on too many changes all at once
We can overwhelm ourselves if we try to focus on making too many changes all at once. Making one big change is tough enough. But trying to take on multiple big changes at once decreases our likelihood of successful change. It’s unrealistic.
16. We underestimate the process
Simple can often be confused with easy. We think all we have to do is just do it. But many behaviors and even thought patterns are often deep-rooted in many factors. Behavior change is a lot more complex than we think it is. There’s a lot of connected things involved. It also involves multiple steps. It’s not just one big jump.
17. Our environment makes changes difficult
Our environment has a major impact on our behavior. When our environment changes, our brain adapts and makes changes in response to our changing environment. That’s one of the reasons why we survive as a species. We can live in nearly all parts of the world because of our adaptability. Because of this, we are product of our environment.
18. We lack focus
This happens when we constantly get distracted by other demands and interests that are competing for our attention. We may start out motivated but soon enough work, school, and kids get in the way. We don’t emphasize priority on the change.
We can never know or be 100% certain that we will be able to change ourselves and our lives. While we may be confident in ourselves that we can, the fact remains. For those of us who are not all too confident, that uncertainty is scary. It keeps us in our place.
We fear leaving that relationship because what if we can’t find someone better? Then we’re all alone. We fear leaving that job because what if our business plan doesn’t work out or the next career doesn’t work out as planned? Then we’re jobless or even unhappier at our work than before.
A way to deal with this is to let go of control and believe in yourself that you’re going to make it out alive and better. Even if the mentioned does happen, it’s not the end of the world. We just need to keep moving forward and know that it’s never too late for success. You have what it takes to deal with what life throws at you and become a better person because of it.
20. We face judgment
We’re afraid about what others may say – whether it may be people underestimating us or “overestimating” us. It can be defeating and discouraging when those around us don’t believe in our ability to change or when they are disapproving of it. On the other side, we’re afraid to disappoint and not reach people’s expectations when they believe in us, or they try to push us even further in the direction of change. I go more in-depth into why that can be a bad thing in this article.
Fear is actually one of the main reason behind why we procrastinate. We place a lot of importance on the change goal, and that can make it overwhelming. We can also have a fear of success or fear of failure. We can fear the responsibilities of success, and we can fear the disappointments and losses of failure.
22. Too big too soon
Behavioral change is a big thing. But it shouldn’t start that way. If we start with big intense changes, we’re less likely to follow through than with smaller, gradual, less intense changes. It’s not as much of a shock to our brain as bigger sooner changes.
Consistency over intensity.
There are many different reasons why we could be struggling with change. Determining what’s causing the difficulty and working on that can help the process of reaching the goal of behavior change.
If you are a supporter of someone who is struggling with change, I’d recommend to either send them this article or for you to read this article if you wish to help them.