Why is Change so Hard + How to Actually Change
These are two of the most common questions I get:
“Why is change so hard?”
“How do you actually change?”
Don’t read this until you have 5 minutes of uninterrupted time. I know this post can change the way you think about change. #Meta
As January 1st is rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to talk about resolutions. Resolutions are all about change. They’re about doing something differently.
The most popular resolution is health and fitness related. Not surprising.
But what is surprising (scary even!) is how many times we make the same resolution year after year.
First, we’ll talk about why change is so hard. Then we’ll talk about how to actually change.
Many of us (including myself) find it hard to tolerate change. Even change we know is good for us!
In short: Change is uncomfortable.
Who likes to be uncomfortable? It is human nature to seek relief when we’re uncomfortable.
The other thing about change is that we want it as much as we fear it.
“I hate my job but I don’t know how to do anything else.” “I hate my s/o but I’m too afraid to be alone.” “I hate how I feel after eating junk but I’m scared to give up the comfort of food.”…
Change can be paralyzing at times. Many people would prefer to keep doing what they’ve always done – even if they know it’s not right – because it’s what they’re used to doing. Because it’s comfortable.
Is the saying, “Better the devil you know” really true?
For many people it is. Humans are so resistant to change, from doing something unfamiliar us, that we’re literally willing to risk our lives to avoid it.
In his wonderful book, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz tells the story of Marissa Panigrosso, who worked on the 98th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She recalled that when the first plane hit the North Tower on September 11, 2001, a wave of hot air came through her glass windows as intense as opening a pizza oven.
She did not hesitate. She didn’t even pick up her purse, make a phone call or turn off her computer. She walked quickly to the nearest emergency exit, pushed through the door and began the ninety-eight-stairway decent to the ground.
What she found curious is that far more people chose to stay right where they were.
They made outside calls and even an entire group of colleagues went into their previously scheduled meeting.
Why would they choose to stay in such a vulnerable place in such an extreme circumstance?
Because they were human beings and human beings find change to be extremely difficult, practically impossible. To leave without being instructed to leave was a risk.
What were the chances of another plane hitting their tower, really? And if they did leave, wouldn’t their colleagues think that they were over-reacting, running in fear? They should stay calm and wait for help, maintain an even keel.
And that’s what they did. I probably would have too.
Grosz suggests that the reason every single person in the South Tower didn’t immediately leave the building is that they did not have a familiar story in their minds to guide them.
We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency.
Even among those people who chose to leave, there were some who went back to the floor to retrieve personal belongings they couldn’t bear to part with. One woman was walking down alongside Marissa Panigrosso when she stopped herself and went back upstairs to get the baby pictures of her children left on her desk. To lose them was too much for her to accept.
The decision was fatal.
Our impulse is to stay safe by doing what we’ve always done before. To change our course of action seems far riskier than to keep on keeping on. To change anything about our lives, even our choice of toothpaste, causes great anxiety.
I think it is because change requires loss. And the prospect of loss is far more powerful than potential gain. It’s difficult to imagine what a change will do to us.
We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even in an emergency.
Our impulse is to stay “safe” by doing what we’ve always done. Even if we know it’s causing us harm. To change anything about our lives – even our choice of toothpaste – can cause discomfort.
Question: How is uncertainty keeping you stuck?
“HOW DO WE ACTUALLY CHANGE, ADAM?”
[I get this question all the time. I also feel very qualified to answer it. I’ve helped 1000’s of people change their diet and exercise behaviors and habits with my program and methods since 2007.]
I think the better question, though, is how do we know we’re changing.
The answer? It feels uncomfortable.
If we’re doing what we’ve always done, we won’t feel any differently because it’s comfortable to us.
Discomfort means we’re doing things DIFFERENTLY, and therefore we’re on the right track.
Let me give you an example…
Typically, if there is a whole spread of cookies and all kinds of indulgent food in front of us, we’d dig right in.
The more comfortable thing to do in the moment would be to take a plate, and load up. That’s what our old selves would do.
The more uncomfortable thing to do in the moment would be to say, “No thanks! I don’t want that. It’s not a part of my plan.” and walk away thinking, “It’s not going to help me to look or feel better!”
In other words, discomfort is our compass.
So, whenever we have an opportunity to feel uncomfortable we want to take it. That lets us know we’re headed in the right direction. It lets us know we’re doing something different. It lets us know we’re changing.
And if we keep choosing the more uncomfortable path, we’ll get closer to where we want to be.
P.S. Look out for my next post. I’m going to share with you MBT’s secret sauce. Hint: The world’s best athletes, performers and entrepreneurs have one.
P.P.S. If you want to read (and see) some inspiring stories of people just like you who transformed their bodies click here. If you want to learn more about our program that has helped thousands of people of all ages, sizes and shapes change their relationship with food and exercise click here