Why is it so hard to change?

“I get so sick of dealing with myself!” I heard a friend exclaim this the other day. He was talking about pattern of wanting to be real with others, taking risks to say and do things authentically, and then feeling shame and second-guessing himself in the wake of it all. We all have some version of this downward spiral in which our repeated thoughts or behaviors keep us stuck and drive us crazy. What is the crazy-making pattern that most often frustrates you? Why do we struggle so to change these patterns?

I’ve identified six common approaches that we use to try to change and move beyond our frustrating ruts of thought and behavior. I have used them all. Each of these perspectives (with one exception) has volumes of books, podcasts, and seminars that will tell you why this particular approach is the secret to deep change:

1)    Energizer bunny action plan: This is a model that says change comes through the actions we take. Goals, action plans, New Year’s resolutions, lists, coaching, these steps lead us to a commitment to act differently.  The upside of this approach is that things happen, change occurs to some degree. The downside is that it is hard to sustain these methods because we get tired of pushing and acting, and we get especially discouraged when our old stuck patterns come back in spite of our actions.

2)    Thought police: “Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it.” This approach recognizes the power of our thoughts to shape our realities. We know that beliefs and attitudes filter how we view and experience our lives. If we can shift our beliefs and thoughts then we literally shift our worlds. The challenge with this perspective is that we can drive ourselves crazy trying to craft healthy thoughts, to avoid negative thoughts, and the whole approach can become a downward spiral that leaves us with a headache.

3)    Therapy and counseling: Theses journeys into ourselves typically take us back into the past of our lives so we can understand why we are the way that we are (typically to figure out why we are so messed up). If we can locate the problem in the past we can find the solution in the present. There is much to be gained from asking the “why?” underlying our patterns and problem. However, when we over-use therapy we can get stuck in the “why” and never move along to the “where to” or the “how” of change.

4)    Spiritual direction and exploration: Spirituality is a powerful doorway for discovering deep dimensions of ourselves. It is first a listening process that seeks to discern the spiritual truths connected with the internal and external movements in our lives. A common trap with spiritual exploration is that we can become so entranced by the listening and reflective process that we never take any action that will prompt actual change.

5)    Give me a break! I give up! This is a favorite approach for many of us. We read books, try stuff, see people and find ourselves back in the same old muck. So we take a break or give up altogether. This moment usually is filled with frustration and exasperation that we turn back on ourselves in some form of self-abuse. But, as is often the case, the biggest truths in life come wrapped in strange packages. This pause may just be the soul’s invitation to an even deeper change process. Here’s what I’m talking about:

6)    “You don’t need to change.” This approach to change says don’t change, just be here now. I love the following words from Byron Brown:

What if you found a spiritual method that focused completely on being right here?  What if they did not require you to change yourself in any way in order to find yourself?  What if you didn’t have to go away from yourself in order to go deeper?  What if you could stop comparing yourself to something or someone that you imagine to be better or truer or more spiritual?  What if transformation were a natural, spontaneous process that occurs only when you stop being so busy trying to change yourself? In one sense, it is the simplest possible experience to be as you are at this moment without any inner movement away from yourself.

When we give up the need to change we can experience an in-breath of grace that says, “it’s all okay,” “let go,” “open up to the gifts and gratitudes of this moment.” This is a release from the oppressive striving of having to change and be different. Nonetheless, even this perspective is one we can get stuck in. Meditators and “be here now” junkies can lapse into a disengagement from life that is stifling. However, when we experience this moment in its pureness, it is a still point from which we rest, gain perspective and create energy for choosing to take future steps toward change or for choosing not to change.

Why is change so hard? Because we tend to get stuck in one of these six boxes, or we flit from one to another without any depth. I know that any one of these approaches can be a powerful catalyst for change if we work with it intentionally. And, I believe we really super-charge the process when we understand and practice #6. Paradoxically, the inner conviction that says “I don’t need to change” may just be the best change agent there is. When we are released from striving and frustration, we are freed up to go back to our approaches to change in a new way. The first four approaches become an amazing tool kit that provides strategies for 1) taking action, 2) being intentional about our beliefs and thoughts, 3) being freed up from past wounds and 4) opening to spiritual inspiration and guidance.

If we think of each of these six approaches to change as dances then change becomes a natural and inevitable outcome of just responding to the ever-evolving music of life.

Categories Coaching, Presence, Spiritual Direction, Spirituality, Vitality | Tags: | Posted on March 1, 2013

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