Updates from new blog at www.nextchapternewlife.com/blog/

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personal Change Resistance: It’s getting a bad rap


There is an interesting myth that our culture supports; that we resist change. It's interesting but it's also untrue. You may be sitting there thinking "is she out of her mind?" Let me quickly show you my point. You have been making change your whole life. You changed from a child to an adult, you changed schools, moved, and changed friends. The list goes on. As an adult, you have even more change happening to you, some of it you caused and some of it "happened" to you. As you know, change is the only constant in our life, so it washes over us all the time. Change happens.

This leaves us to ponder the questions: If we have so much change happening to us, why do we think we resist it? Why are some changes so hard to make or accept? These are all good questions. Let's examine what change resistance is.

Our tendency is to turn our behavior into a habit. As humans, we benefit greatly from habits. It means we can perform numerous tasks with very little conscious effort. In other words, we don't have to think about things too much. The best illustration of this is when you drive home and suddenly realize you don't remember most of the drive. The drive home is a habit. You don't have to think about how to operate the car or what streets you have to turn on. These habits allow us to more or less go on auto-pilot mentally which reduces the amount of energy we spend on the various tasks of living. If you have ever had a day filled with learning something new, you know just how exhausting that can be. That is how each day of your life would be if you didn't have habits to help you.

An important thing to also understand about a habit is that it takes at least 21 days of repeated behavior to either make or break a habit. Three weeks doesn't sound like much until you try doing it. That means if you want to start exercising regularly, you're looking at about a month before it STARTs to become a habit. If you have ever been to a gym at the first of the year, you would notice a huge influx of people. By February about half of those same people are there. So changing or substituting a behavior means you have to know up front, it will take a while before it becomes routine and therefore easier to do consistently.

A strange aspect to habits is the unconscious aspect to it. That means that we aren't thinking too much about what we're doing, so if it turns out you're a jerk, you probably don't notice it. That's nice for you, not so nice for those around you. That means if you have had a deep and meaningful conversation with your spouse about some crummy behavior, there are worlds of issues creating the "resistance". First, they probably have no idea what the issue is. Second, even if you get them to agree to change, they have to figure out what to substitute. Third, if they figure out a suitable substitute the challenge will be for them to continue to do it long enough to create a new habit or behavior. Real change is possible, but it has its challenges. Let me tell you the refreshing part of this. Most of the people you run into that are jerks (including your boss), don't really realize it. That means, they aren't acting like a jerk to make your life horrible, they are simply doing things unconsciously. The refreshing part of this: it's not about you.

Now that you understand the role habit plays, let's look at how it makes you feel. Because a habit allows you to unconsciously conduct a large part of your life, it allows you to feel comfortable. We are creatures of comfort and we will go to great lengths to maintain that comfort. That means that if we can avoid having to do things consciously, we will. We will only voluntarily make changes when a situation has gotten to a point where we are uncomfortable enough with whatever the issue is, that we then take action. You can logic your way to thinking about a change but if you don't feel uncomfortable enough, you won't make the change. You can look at the no smoking movement. We are putting out all kinds of information about why you shouldn't smoke. Pure logic. The smoking rate continues to grow. If logic worked, none of us would be smoking, overweight or out of shape. Some of us are left to conclude, then, that if we "know" something and don't make a change that we must be resistant. Logic alone won't make most of us uncomfortable.

Change happens to us and is something we do to ourselves all the time for the rest of our lives. We really aren't resistant to it; we tend to avoid paying attention to it. We're dealing with habits, which are hard to change. There is a big difference between being resistant to something and simply breaking a habit. Being resistant is largely an attitude. You can modify your attitude much easier than modifying a habit. Lest I depress you, let me leave you with a few quick thoughts. Breaking a habit or making a change, is a process, so it can be done. You will need to do some planning and set your expectations about the amount of time it might take. Also, we tend to not retain or internalize how to apply one change to others in our life but the minute we do, we become its master.