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Why is change so hard?


What does your wish-list look like? Chances are it will contain one or more of the following: lose a few kilos, quit smoking, cut back on the alcohol, get fitter, improve my relationship with my spouse, control my temper, improve my life-work balance, be more generous with my time, go easier on the environment. The list doesn’t stop there, but you get the picture. All these wishes are admirable. They’re good for us, good for others, and good for the world. So what stops us making them happen? The deceptively simple answer is that change – any sort of change – is really hard. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why that might be – then see what we can do to overcome them in order to crank start the new behaviours we want to develop.

To begin with, the desire for change is usually driven by negative emotions. We don’t like ourselves for being overweight, for smoking, or for snapping at our spouse. Yet to contemplate changing those behaviours we tend to look at ourselves through a negative filter – and who wants to do that! Then there’s our tendency to look at change in an all or nothing fashion. We want change so badly that we seek to make it happen in its entirety and overnight – something that is bound to lead to failure. And as failure can be difficult to digest, we give up before we’ve barely begun. Lastly, we may have all the drive in the world to change but if the tools we need to make it happen aren’t at our disposal we haven’t got a hope of success (after all, who is going to eat a more healthy diet when they don’t have vegetables in their fridge?).


Seeing ourselves in a positive light while undertaking change isn’t difficult. Instead of dwelling on what you are doing badly, turn it around. Stop saying “I have to give up smoking 20 cigarettes a day” and instead, go with “I’m looking forward to being a non-smoker.” Swap “I’m so unfit I have to start walking an hour a day” to “I’m now walking to work every morning.”

Rid the word ‘immediately’ from your desire-to-change vocabulary. Accept that change is not going to happen overnight, set yourself micro-goals, and look forward to achieving them. For instance, in your desire to have a better relationship with your spouse, you’re unlikely (initially, at least) to find yourself sitting down each evening with them for a deep and meaningful chat. However, by setting your alarm as a reminder, you will remember to ask, over the evening meal each evening, how their day went. Make step two the decision to listen to their reply without interrupting!

Lastly, gather your ammunition around you before you embark on the journey to change. If you’re quitting the nightly glass of wine, purge your house of alcohol, at least during the week. But don’t stop there. Stock the pantry with delicious alternatives – a bottle of boutique kombucha, a diet lime and bitters, or a new herbal tea. If you really want that life-work balance, start by leaving the laptop at the office one night a week and work up to turning off the mobile while you’re having quality time with the family. Little by little, you’ll get there.

Whatever you do to make change happen, start now, and pat yourself on the back for every step you achieve.