Happy 2017! The new year can be an exciting time because it means a blank canvas – a chance to create our lives in a new way. For lots of us, it also signifies the beginning of a change we wish to make, which is where the New Year’s resolution typically comes in.
Clients usually come to coaching seeking change – they may feel stuck in their work or personal life, and aren’t sure what steps to take next. They may have identified habits that are getting in the way of them living as fully as they would like to, or had some type of wake-up call in the form of a health scare or relationship upheaval, and realize that the time has come to face their reality.
Change is difficult, and maintaining those changes can be even trickier. What’s the saying? “Anyone can lose 10 pounds. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Ouch.
What’s the deal? If we say we want to make a change, and know that it’s good for us over the long haul, why is it so darn hard? What about the determination and discipline we seem to have in other parts of our lives? How can we be so successful in our work or other undertakings and struggle so miserably when it comes to changing something seemingly as simple as a habit?
Here’s some food for thought. If the payoff you get from continuing your bad habit feels better to you, on some level, than the benefit you might get from changing, it’s going to be an uphill struggle.
Let’s say you want to stop smoking. You know you need to; your family doctor has been on you for years, you know the risks, you want to be around for your children. You have all the information and every reason to stop. And yet, every time you make the attempt, with the best of intentions and all your resolve, you end up in the same place – smoking. Your abstinence may last a few days or a few months but sooner or later you slide back. What kind of payoff could you possibly be getting from that?
Maybe you’ve stayed in a relationship that is no longer healthy for you, you know it’s time to move on, but you never do. What if the doctor has told you you’re a candidate for Type II diabetes and the time to lose weight and make changes in your eating habits is now. Your well-being, your health is at risk. You decide to make changes starting tomorrow but before the week is out you’re slipping back into old eating patterns.
In any of these examples, the pain and discomfort of change seems to outweigh the difficulties associated with continuing the habit.
In the smoking example above, more than one factor could be at play. Maybe you’ve relied on smoking to keep your weight under control over the years. You’ve heard stories about significant weight gain from some who’ve stopped, and you’re not sure you want to chance that. You may be at a point where the relationship you’re in no longer feels right for you. Still, the idea of having to put yourself out there in the dating world, or risk being alone, doesn’t sound all that great either. A hoped-for job promotion may create anxiety about losing the camaraderie of your band of work colleague so you end up turning it down.
You get the idea.
Let’s face it. When we’ve indulged in a habit for a long time – maybe even years – it’s because we have been getting some type of benefit from it. It’s going to be hard to make a change unless we can begin to see more benefit in the new behavior, the change we are trying to make. It’s just easier to keep doing what we’ve always done. When we are able to begin more of a long-term view of the benefits to be gained, it’s going to be easier for us to make the effort. We might think: “Yes, I may end up gaining a few pounds if I stop smoking, but I’ll be healthier over the long haul, and have more energy to exercise. I can always lose the weight and I’ll feel so much better!
There is a quote by Anais Nin that speaks to this: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
The next time you find yourself frustrated or struggling in some way with a habit you’re trying to change, stop and ask yourself: What’s my payoff for staying where I am? What am I getting out of this behavior that I am afraid to lose? Asking that question, and listening for the answer, could be the key that unlocks the door to the beginning of real change.
Feel free to comment below with any thoughts you have – I’ll be sure to respond.
Wishing you your best year yet!