Change can be a mother effer.
I’m not even talking about change that happens to you that you had no choice in. Or change that happened slowly, quietly creeping up on you until you realize it’s here [ ta da! ].
No – even when you really really really want to change something, and you think about changing it all the time; you daydream about the day that you can say ‘yes. here i am. i have arrived’ – even that kind of change can be really effing hard.
And when you’re not getting ahead, and you really really want to – you might blame someone else. Or complain that you ‘have no idea why this is happening’. You tell everyone all the reasons you’re stuck; even when they haven’t asked and you distract people from your lack of progress by pointing out someone else’s problems. You tell yourself it doesn’t matter. You worked really hard, you deserve to keep fucking it up for a while because it feels good in the moment, and you don’t really know how to stop.
We tend to feel quite a bit of self-doubt and guilt while we’re busy failing at change.
But maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’re built that way. Maybe it’s your brain. That magical, powerful globular goo stuck in your skull that’s capable of dreaming up just about anything – it has habits of its own and tells you these dirty little lies that can keep you stuck in your habits and keep change just out of reach.
- Keep your eyes on the big picture :
You are capable of seeing life in big picture mode – visioning what success looks like, and how it will feel. For some of us, the big picture is actually easier to see than the steps it takes to get there. It sounds like this :
‘ I’m going to stop polluting, and live in harmony with nature ‘
‘ I’m going to get rich, fall in love, and it’s all gonna be so so good ‘
Those are awesome goals. But not SMART ones [ Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timeline oriented ]. Even if you forget acronyms – these dreams are lofty, with no clear path to get there.
If you want to break free from your big picture daydreams, try focusing in on one long term vision. Write it down. Ask yourself – where would I start? And then what? Lay the path and start your journey. For a minute, forget about the end of the tunnel and notice where you’re at and how far you’ve come so far. Forgive yourself for not being further along, breathe in and find some peace in now.
2. You are made to fight, flee or freeze :
Your brain is always on alert. Interpreting the world around you and categorizing everything in files; ‘safe’, ‘tasty’, ‘sexy’, ‘threatening’ … so you know what to do. Problem is, most of us see change as somewhat threatening and that’s why we hold back. I know you may not buy this – but if you were 100% comfortable during a change, it wouldn’t be a change. It would be a ‘be who you already were some more because it’s awesome’. And when you become uncomfortable, when your everyday becomes unknown because you’ve had to leave some habits behind, or when your change becomes painful as you grieve what you’re letting go, your brain reacts.
In your most primal root of yourself there are three responses your brain switches on to respond to threat: Fight – destroy the threat, before it destroys you; Flight – run and hide; and Freeze. Freeze is the lesser known response, but the most common. When you freeze you may be tuning out completely. Slowing your body, and locking your mind safely away with your daydreams while you wait for the danger to pass, hoping that you are as unscathed as possible when it’s over. Or you may be tuning in fiercely – studying your opponent, and planning your next move. So when you’re facing change, and that point in change when the rubber hits the road, you may very well freeze instinctively because little alarm bells are ringing in your brain saying ‘i don’t know this place, and i don’t know if i like it’. And you guessed it, if your brain flips the freeze switch, your change is on hold.
The way out? Resiliency. Working to consciously notice that you’ve frozen and reminding yourself that it’s ok. Building safety nets around you with people, places, and things that bring you joy. Taking deep breaths, counting to ten, doing whatever you do to recall that you are magnificent, you are safe, you are going to come out the other end of this ok.
3. You are capable of multitasking [ or screwing up several things at once ]
Can you ride a bicycle while chewing gum? Sure. But most tasks are more complex when paired up. And we – magnificently flawed human beings we are – believe with every inch of our soul that we are so incredible and amazing we can accomplish everything at once. So we try. And we fail.
That little brain of yours is truly amazing but can only really solidly focus on a few things at a time. Some things your brain accomplishes without you even knowing – You are [ hopefully ] breathing, digesting, and blinking just fine. If you had to think about those things to accomplish them, you’d be exhausted. And some things [ like habits ] your brain can do with little thought. But big things [ like changes – especially changing the habits that you don’t have to think about anymore ] require some serious intention and attention.
So if you’re no further ahead than last week, last month, or last year, and this is STILL important to you – try cutting out other things first. ‘ What the heck!? To change one thing effectively, I have to change a bunch of other things first? ‘ – Maybe. But pick the easy things. That you barely even care about. Declutter your day, and your mind, and you’ll likely find a little extra focus for the change that matters.
4. Feelings are for suckers :
It’s time to face it. You’re an emotional being. And your brain can get busy with feeling all the feels. There are going to be days when you feel like you’re killing it. And there are going to be days when you firmly believe that this change is so heavy it’s going to kill you.
Your brain doesn’t always know the difference – so it’s your job to wade through it all. Notice how you feel. Acknowledge your emotions. But teach yourself to recognize which ones are helping and which ones are not. Learn the difference between the emotions you should sit in for a while, and the ones you should move through. Figure out what triggers your negative feelings, and what triggers the feel-goods; then build an environment and a routine that steer you toward your positive emotions and away from the muck.
5. You will always make a smart choice:
I’m really sorry – I’m not exactly saying that we’re stupid, just that we spend a lot of time thinking we’re smart, and forgetting that we are impulse driven creatures. We will almost always choose convenience now over long term gains.
So on the way to change, your old habits will creep up and look much more convenient than the work you’ve been putting in. And more often than not your brain will give in. You’ll take 3 steps forward and then 2 back. And the cure? There isn’t one. Forgiveness. Forgive yourself for being human. Celebrate the one step forward you’ve sustained all along. Believe with all your heart that it’s ok because you’re a person and you’re meant to fuck it up over and over again along the way. It’s normal. And you’re not alone – everyone else is really busy fucking it up too. So keep trying. Because you’re worth it.