They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Those too frustrated for metaphors throw up their hands and lament, “People never change!” Whether it’s giving up an unhealthy habit like smoking or snacking, taking the first steps towards the achievement of a goal like starting a blog, or adopting new healthy habits like exercise or meditation, I’ve found that it is often hard to change. But why is change hard? What conditions make it hard, and what can be done to overcome those hurdles?
Ignorance or Lack of Awareness
The first obstacle to change is ignorance about why it might even be a good idea to change. If you don’t know how your habit of snacking between meals is affecting your health, or if the habitual anger response that is sabotaging your relationships is outside of your conscious awareness, there’s very little chance that you are going to do anything to change these circumstances. In this case, education and self-observation can help bring someone closer to change.
Fear, Doubt and Worry
The three hindrances of yoga–fear, doubt, and worry–have often stood between me and my goals. I remember when I first learned (read: came into awareness) that sugar was such a toxic substance and I contemplated what it would be like to completely give it up. I was scared. Sugar was my friend and I didn’t want to lose it. I doubted that I could be happy without it, and I worried that I would be giving up something that I knew I liked for the uncertainty of “health” or that even more wishy-washy word, “wellness.” In this case, I found it helpful to start small: I went without sugar for one month to see what it was like. It has been a long journey between that first month and where I am today in my sugar consumption and overall dietary habits, and while I have not eradicated sugar completely, the try-and-see approach has proved useful for overcoming the fear, doubt, and worry that come along with uncertainty. And of course, there was a lot of yoga.
Time or Prioritization
Once you are educated about why change is a good idea and once you have done enough experimentation to realize that change does not mean the end of the world, the third obstacle that may come up is time. If we’re being honest, though, this obstacle is really just our own prioritization. We like to say we’re too busy to exercise, or to cook, or to meditate, but we have a lot more control over our time than we might like to admit. We just choose to use that time in certain ways rather than others. For instance, during the 2008 election, I became obsessed with following the news and reading all about different political issues. I was reading two weekly news magazines, two monthly magazines, and various other articles that I would find online. What’s more, I kept a detailed spreadsheet of everything I had read about various political topics for later reference. But once that “phase” of my life passed, did I all of a sudden have a ton of free time? No, because that free time got filled with other interests and obligations. Most people’s time gets filled up without them even realizing where it’s going. So if you truly believe that it’s important for you to make a certain change in your life, and you want to actually do it, put that belief and desire into action by allocating your time accordingly. If you need assistance, you can enlist the help of a coach or accountability buddy. Be realistic about the amount of time you can commit, but commit something. Even if that means not doing something else that you are more accustomed to doing. Whenever I feel like skipping my meditation, I hear the voice of one of my coaches saying, “I’m suggesting that you don’t have anything better to do.” Ouch. Reality check.