It is that time of the year again, many of us want to make changes in our lives: in relationships, lifestyle (diet, exercise, & relaxation), work, and/or our relationship with ourselves. Many of us make promises to ourselves to change our behaviours and life but often soon stop doing what we started and return to old habits. It is often very hard to change our behaviours if we try to do with without good preparation and awareness of the barriers to becoming successful. We are often scared of change and what it might bring even if we know the benefits.
For this month’s post, I wanted to write about the different reasons why you may be struggling to make changes in your life. Previously, I have written Want a change? 7 Principles to have your best year yet and perhaps you are now trying to have these in your life but struggle to make changes.
- Unhelpful behaviours as coping strategies – Sometimes the lifestyle choices are a coping strategy for the emotional pain we experience, such as childhood trauma. We are often motivated by difficult emotions such as shame, guilt or (internalised) anger and trying to avoid the emotional pain. If you have been nurturing or numbing your difficult emotions by, for example, food or alcohol unless you have something else in place to help you process and cope with these feelings, you may try a temporary change in your behaviour but it is likely that you soon slip and return to your old habits.
- Assess what it is the meaning of the behaviour that you wish to change your life – now be honest with yourself! If you are often comforting yourself with food when you are lonely, acknowledge it and start thinking about what could you do to change it. Potentially if you identify the root cause, you may drop the need for the coping strategy.
- Spend time reflecting on your feelings – the better you understand your emotions and acknowledge them the less likely you are to need strategies for numbing them. If you experienced childhood emotional neglect, you may be frightened or unaware of your feelings and counselling could help you to become more emotionally aware.
- Making changes requires effort and facing your fears – We love anything that is comfortable. Sometimes we are scared of the unknown and “the better the devil you know” than to start making changes that might lead to us living the life we always wanted to have. Often it is not until we reach a point of no return that we stop and start making changes even if we are scared of the alternative.
For example, if you are in a relationship that does not have a future but you secretly hope for things to change in the long-run, you may complain about it to your friends for a long time, but actually doing something e.g. addressing it in therapy whether individually or as a couple may seem like a too big step, let alone actually deciding that enough is enough and moving on from the relationship. (However, if you are in an abusive relationship, there may be also other reasons keeping you there. This post series on toxic relationships may be useful in recognising the signs of an abusive relationship and moving on.)
It is important to reflect on what is keeping you in the current situation. Perhaps it is fear and lack of belief that things can’t be different for you in the future. Making changes often challenges us to look at what makes us fearful and if you really want to make a change you often need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
- Lacking direction in what you want to change – Rather than having a clear goal in mind, you may be generally being unhappy with your life and wanting to change many things. It may feel daunting thinking about where to start.
Perhaps start with a Mood board for collecting pictures of representing the life you wish to have. You can easily do this on Pinterest or even by physically cutting pictures that represent your dream life. Now be open and let yourself dream, don’t think what is realistic or not. Just let your imagination run wild.
You may do this by writing a description of your dream life too, as long as you don’t let yourself be critical of your dream. Once you have identified all the different areas of your dream life, then you can think about one area that you can start working on. Next point will give you steps on how to start putting together an action plan.
- Having unrealistic goals – If you set unrealistic goals and try to bite a too big piece before you are ready, you may end up with too many difficulties and the task seems impossible. You may be so put off straight away that you don’t even give yourself a chance.
Set goals that are based on SMART principles:
If you break down your larger goal into smaller chunks, you are more likely to succeed in approaching your larger goal and small steps will motivate you to continue approaching your dream. You can download a SMART form to help you to break down your goal in the Resource Library.
- Having lack of support and/or being surrounded by unhelpful people – You are not an island. We need each other and this applies to times when we are making changes in our lives. Whether you are starting a new healthier lifestyle, want to be more in control of your finances or want to find a new job, surround yourself with people who want the best for you and are inspiring. Discouraging and doubtful people maybe projecting their own fears on to you and you may make decisions based on their comments that are not getting you where you want to go. If it is difficult to find friends or relatives you are supporting your plans, turn to Facebook groups or face to face support groups. You can find excellent support groups for anything you want to achieve, but be aware there maybe unhelpful people too. So, choose your company.
- You don’t feel you deserve it – You would like to make changes in your life but you lack the confidence and self-belief that you can go ahead with them. Reflect on where do those thoughts come from. Can you perhaps hear a voice of a critical parent, previous teacher or someone else in your life who has been critical of you? Once you have identified the source question, imagine yourself blocking that critical voice. You could visualising a protective shield around you that blocks all critical comments and only allows love and encouragement to enter. Visualise the details of this protective shield or a barrier, the texture and colour(s).
You may have also experienced childhood trauma or later difficult life experiences that have made you doubt yourself. Therapy with a trained professional could help you to address life experiences that contribute to your self-doubt and process those blocks that may stop you from having the life you wish to have. Remember: You deserve it!
- Wanting overnight changes and then giving up – Perhaps you are one of us who jumps to new things quickly but then as things don’t happen quite as quickly as you had hoped for you lose interest or confidence and stop taking steps towards your desired outcome. So starting for you is easy but then persisting with the required steps is more difficult. Change often requires commitment and patience. For example, if it has taken for you years to develop a particular lifestyle that is not supporting your well-being, it is unlikely that the change will take place overnight. Sometimes you have to really slow things down and take even an hour at a time. Small steps will lead to bigger things. Keep on going, you will get there and celebrate small victories!
Hope you found this post useful in assessing what might keep you stuck in your old behaviour patterns. Good luck with working towards having the life you have always wanted to have.
The resource library has free resources on self-help tools for living the life you have always wanted to live.