Why it’s so hard to change: accepting reality

Grumpy tabby cat with string over its head

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Thinking you need to change something in your life, but can’t muster the energy? Can’t work out why it’s so hard to change? Having the right mindset is key to success. And so is planning what you’re going to do before you start. Keep reading to find out what stops you from being able to make changes easily in your life. 

It’s a paradox

You may know someone whose health is rapidly going downhill, but they never get around to doing anything about it.

Or you may desperately want to change an unhelpful behaviour yourself, but push the thought out of your head all the time.

Wanting to change isn’t enough

Even knowing some strategies about how to change isn’t enough to make you change. Unfortunately, all the desire and knowledge in the world can’t make you do what you need to do.

In the end, the only way to change is to take effective action.

What’s stopping you?

To find out what’s holding you back, you firstly need to know why it’s so hard to change.

Lots of factors affect how easy or hard it is to change.

For example:

Whether you’re even aware you need to change.

How important you think it is to change.

If you’re willing to work on changing.

If you’re tired, ill, or overwhelmed with other tasks.

How others view you trying to change.

Whether you believe you’ll succeed.

If you work out an effective plan before you start.

How specific, realistic and measurable your goals are.

If you plan for obstacles that could pop up.

If you can keep going even when you’re discouraged.

How well you adapt to new circumstances or information.

Sounds daunting?

Don’t be discouraged

By the time you’ve worked through our articles, you’ll be a master of change.

You’ll learn to be more aware of choices you’re making. You’ll know how to streamline the process of change to make it as efficient as possible.

Just as a quick introduction to the process of change, here are a few pointers. These apply whether you’re trying to lose weight, start exercising, stop smoking or be a kinder person.

1 Your mindset is important

Most of the “change gurus” stress how vital it is to be consistent. And that’s true.

It’s helpful to do what you need to do most days of most weeks. 

Note I haven’t said every single day of the rest of your life. Because you’re not a machine. 

2 You’re not a machine

None of us can keep up a program of change indefinitely, with no breaks and no rest.

And life will always get in the way.

3 So don’t try to be perfect

It’s just not possible to do things perfectly, with no roadblocks, all the time. Work, stress, physical illness, weather, and daily hassles will all intervene.

Right from the start, accept you’ll have days when you can’t do what you planned.

Accept that sometimes, you may not even be able to work at all on your goals for a few days – or even a week or two at times. 

But don’t worry. 

4 Anything is better than nothing

Be willing at times to accept less than you’d planned. It’s just the way it is.

It’s unrealistic to think you’ll keep improving all the time.

Usually progress comes in fits and starts, rather than a smooth upward line. 

The brain and body both need time to adjust to new regimes. 

So you may feel as if you’re achieving a lot for a while, and then suddenly find your progress slowing down. 

5 Back off a little

If you’re trying too hard, it can work against you. Your brain may need time to digest and absorb new information. And no amount of cramming in more will be effective until it’s done this. 

Each person’s body also has its own, individual limits.

If you do push yourself physically too hard or too fast, you’ll soon come to a grinding halt. So sometimes, it’s better to back off a little. 

6 Don’t compare yourself

And don’t compare yourself to others who seem more physically resilient. 

They may have trained a lot more when they were younger. Their body is different genetically to yours, and so will respond in different ways to you. And don’t forget, they may be younger than you as well. 

Far better to start slowly and work up gradually, to prevent injuries and exhaustion. 

Both of these will lower your motivation, and make it more likely you’ll give up. 

So being patient and accepting small gains is key. 

Sometimes you have to drop back a few notches, especially if you’ve been sick, on holiday, or are working long hours. 

It doesn’t matter. In the scheme of things, it’s just a small blip. 

7 Make breaks as short as you can

However, try to make breaks as short as you can. That way you don’t lose too much momentum. You’ll pick up again, and soon be right back where you were.

8 Be proud every time you start again

Be careful, though. Pushing yourself to make up for lost time can work against you. Be content that you’ve restarted, and take it from there at a sensible pace.

Think of it this way: the more times you start again, the less you’ll fall back. See each fresh start as a continuation of what you were doing already. Even if you’ve missed a couple of days or weeks, get back onto your plan.

Don’t stop to bewail the fact that you’ve missed out some time. That’s life.

9 Don’t give yourself a hard time

Notice that little voice that says, “It’s useless. You’ve missed too much. Go and have that drink, or eat that cake, or play video games instead.”

Don’t accept the criticism. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to start over. Think of smokers who may take dozens of attempts to give up before they finally succeed. 

It often depends on your environment as to how quickly you can progress. If you can, get rid of all temptations, and avoid people who may pull you back into bad habits. Instead, hang out with people who want to achieve the same things you do. 

But let’s be honest

Acknowledge you’d rather be doing something else. Acknowledge the pull of those temptations. Then deliberately turn away from them. Let them go.

10 Remind yourself why you want to change

Knowing why you’re changing is a really important step. What’s behind your desire to change?

Remind yourself of the benefits of sticking to your plan. Focus on the next step you need to take.

Then do it. Without delay. Without giving in to those other thoughts.

When you’ve done what you need to do, be proud of yourself. Acknowledge how hard it was for you to stick to your plan. Give yourself some recognition for showing strength of character.

Praise yourself every single time you do even part of what you set out to do.

11 Be aware. Be mindful. Be realistic

Be aware of the constant pull of those distractions. The battle to turn away from them never ends.

Just because you beat them yesterday, doesn’t mean you’ll win today. Every day, several times a day, choose to let them go.

Often your willpower will be stronger earlier in the day. So do what you need to early in the day, rather than later when you’re worn down after the demands of the day.

12 Break it down into little steps

Breaking the process into smaller steps makes it a lot easier. Write them down, or make up a flow chart showing what you need to do.

If you work out a plan, all you need to do is just follow the steps, one by one. Master each step before going on to the next.

That way, you won’t push ahead too fast, and potentially mess up what you’ve done. 

The cycle of change theory

In the next few articles, we’ll be going through a theory that helps us understand how people make changes in their lives.

We’ll work through the whole process of change from start to finish. It will help you understand why it’s so hard to change.

And by the end, you’ll have a good idea of how to start, how to increase your chances of success, and how to maintain your gains.

We’ll follow various people who are trying to change an aspect of their lives. Their example can help you tackle your own goals.

First read Stick to your goals using mindfulness.

See how Bill overcame various obstacles to keep going to accounting classes in the evening.

We’ll also follow Brian’s journey

He’s unfit, overweight and has high blood pressure. He’s content to let his wife Linda run around after him, and pick up the slack in the house and garden. Linda, his kids and his doctor have been badgering him for years to get fit, to no avail.

He’s happy chugging back his beers and meat pies in front of the TV. At present he has no interest in changing his life. He’s not touching an exercise bike, even to save his life.

We’ll watch as he moves from ignoring his problems, to beginning to take responsibility for his life.

Read on to see how he eventually shapes up!

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