What causes people to change?
Probably because I do what I do, I’m always on the lookout for things that inspire change. I am interested in what motivates people to change, how people change, how to make it a lasting change, and so on. I came across a quote, probably on a Facebook wall or something – I’ve since been unable to find it, which said something like, “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t getting any stronger.” Because it was probably on a page related to fitness, they are suggesting that if you aren’t pushing yourself in your exercise, you aren’t progressing, only maintaining.
In being a therapist for a decade and a half, I’ve observed some things about what causes people to grow. And I conclude that the quote above can be applied to general life challenges and how we can grow from them.
Sometimes we grow from being inspired. We witness greatness and want to be a part of it. We see someone soar and want to follow. In these cases, we don’t usually have to hurt to change. The inspiration causes a flow of energy that drives us to get up early, stay late, make the extra effort. Sometimes this inspiration wears off. And so we cut out pictures, save quotes, or use apps to keep us inspired. We are using admiration or desire to grow.
Other times, we are pushed to change because circumstances necessitate it. And frankly, we don’t see it – at least initially – as an opportunity to change. It’s usually something for us to complain about. It’s something that causes us anger – toward others or toward the circumstances themselves. It causes us to feel depressed. Depression is a turning-inward of emotion that slows our ability to problem-solve or remedy our situation.
But what if we look at our challenges as an opportunity to change…?
When we are uncomfortable, we are most ripe for change. It’s because we are motivated by our desire to be more comfortable. Some have said that the Chinese kanji combination that represents the word “crisis” is comprised of the words “danger” and “opportunity.” There has been subsequent controversy about how true this translation actually is. However, even one of the most vocal skeptic’s interpretation of this kanji is “incipient (beginning) moment,” which suggests possibility – for change, perhaps? (http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004343.html). Most therapists know that when someone is facing a personal crisis, there is a greater potential for change and a window of opportunity for this to happen, before we drift back to our tendency toward what is familiar.
Resistance to Change and Avoidance of Discomfort
As humans, we do prefer the familiar. “Creatures of Habit,” we refer to ourselves. This is one of the main reasons why someone in a poor relationship will acknowledge that it’s bad, but drift along in it. People will often tell me, “But I KNOW this problem. I don’t know what the other situation would be like? What if…?” And the doubts begin. So the familiar difficulty wins out over the possibility of less or no difficulty. The unknown is uncomfortable for us. So – facing the unknown, learning something new, pushing ourselves…this is how we become stronger, emotionally and mentally. Take a different example: You are irritated by a family member, co-worker, or friend. Instead of challenging yourself to take a new approach, you just complain, or feel sorry for yourself, or maybe you just feel stuck. Or you aren’t making enough money in your work, but can’t figure out the logistics of a second job, or getting more schooling. When others make suggestions, you’ve got reasons why nothing will help, or excuses.
Two professionals devote a lot of their work to addressing this issue. David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, teaches that resistance to change is the biggest thing that has to change in order to solve our problems. He asserts that the problem-solving itself isn’t usually the most difficult part; it’s our willingness to do what it takes and to disrupt our familiarity. Wayne Dyer, author of Excuses Begone!, impressively attacks all (that I can think of) of our typical mental and emotional “excuses” (read: “resistances), to get us to finally make progress on the things we know will make us better.
On a different note…some challenges are just horrific. Loved ones stolen from us and this earth by circumstances difficult to accept. Financial devastation. Medical mysteries. Life-altering circumstances. Let me be clear that these challenges are different from having a difficult relationship, or a challenging co-worker, or a problem with assertiveness, anger, or procrastination. It’s not about personal shortcomings so much as figuring out how to cope with the unjust or the unexpected. Nevertheless, these grave challenges do force us to dig deeper inside and find something new within us..
Using this Mindset
Think of one thing right now that is difficult for you.
Now, try to think of this challenge as a growth spurt. And tell yourself that when you figure this challenge out, you will have grown.
Next, be very firm with yourself and ask what YOU have to change for this to be less difficult for you.
Chances are, what you would have to change falls into one of two categories: Thinking Changes or Behavior Changes. Specifically, you would have to find a new way of looking at a situation or you would have to do something about your situation. This, Friends, is the basis of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, by the way. CBT is considered a highly effective form of treatment for most mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Simply stated, CBT is how we cope with all of our challenges, whether they fall into the realm of mental health or not.
Does what you need to change fall into one of these categories?
Change of attitude, Change of expectation, Change of perspective, Change of behavior
Is it something you need to stop doing? Or something you need to start doing? Is it something you can start right away, being firm with yourself? Or something you need to take into a therapist’s office?
Ask yourself what other difficult positions you’ve been in and what you’ve learned. Ask yourself if you’ve ever gotten through something before, and been better for it. Ask yourself if you took a terrible situation and found a ray of hope.
Take care of yourself.
Open Your Heart and Mind.
Dig Deeper Inside.