Ever really wanted to change, but try as you might, you can’t stick to your program? If you’re frustrated and bewildered about why you keep giving up on your good intentions, you’re not alone. But if you keep trying to do something (even as you keep failing at it) that in and of itself means something. Usually, it means there’s a strong desire there.
Now, maybe if you know why you keep giving up or failing, you can do something about it.
In this post, I’ll share some reasons you find it hard to change, maybe it will help you do better next time.
That’s my hope anyway.
1. You start many habits at once.
When you start anything new, you want to dedicate time to learning the basics. You need to get into the groove of things and allow yourself some leeway to make mistakes.
Think about when you start a new job. Depending on how complicated the role, you get weeks to months of training. Your boss usually has limited expectations for those first few weeks. And you’re not expected to multitask.
THE FIX: It depends on the level of difficulty for you, but for most goals and habit change, you’re better off focusing on one thing at a time. There are some exceptions.
Trying to start an exercise program is going to be emotionally-challenging for most people. You don’t want to work on that, plus learn a new language, revamp your diet, and organize your life all at once. But it may help your exercise commitment if you’re learning to play an instrument.
2. You’re not ready to change.
Change is a funny thing. Sometimes it sneaks up on us, sometimes it hits us over the head. The process is never smooth or easy, emotionally, or otherwise. According to the 4-stage model, you first go through denial, then resistance, next exploration, and finally commitment before you’re ready to change. How long you stay in each of these stages depends on how hard-headed you are and how much you want the thing you’re trying to do.
Two people have the same goal: to start going to bed by 10 pm. One person needs to because she just started a new job where she has to get in at 7:30 every morning. Having a paycheck is a great motivator, and most people will quickly get over their resistance. But some will try to burn the candles on both ends for a while before they’re ready.
The other person wanted o go to bed by 10 pm after he figured out that staying up late is why he has no energy to exercise. If he’s seriously fed up with his lack of energy, it might take him moments too.
THE FIX: Find a compelling irrefutable reason to change. If you love sweets but want to kick the sugar habit, learn the downsides (it ages you, deepens those dimples on your thighs) and start paying attention to how they’re showing up in your life. Just by becoming more aware of the downsides (instead of ignoring them), you get fed up sooner. At other times, what you need is #3, help.
3. You don’t get help.
Many goals and habits you’re trying to do have secrets to them. You could spend years being frustrated because you don’t know these secrets, or learn them from a pro or others who’ve successfully done what you want to do.
This reminds me of how I learned to love playing tennis.
Ever since taking tennis for a semester in high school gym class, I had a love for tennis. It was one of the few sports I wasn’t terrible at and I loved the one-on-one aspect of the game. Years went by between high school and when I next had easy access to a tennis court but when I did (because I was living near free tennis courts) I wanted to start playing a few times a week as my main form of exercise.
By now, I was back to being at a near-beginner level. This meant I didn’t know how to control the ball and everything else that made playing tennis fun and that left me really frustrated. I wanted to give up and I was close to doing that when one day, this pro player (and excellent tutor) gave me a few pointers based on his observations of what I was doing wrong. By turning my wrist a little to the left, I would serve the ball more to the center of the court so that my poor partner could return my play. He also showed me how to follow through with my racket, not just tap the ball. That had a better chance of sending it over the net.
With those simple tips, I became a better player within weeks and could enjoy playing. Not only did I not give up, even though I was close to, but tennis also remains one of my favorite sports.
THE FIX: Get help (even if you have to pay for it). Because, in order to stay motivated, we need to see some results. We need to feel hopeful… we need to believe that we could actually get where we want to go.
4. You don’t make a plan.
One of the most critical (and helpful) parts of a successful change process is having a plan. But because more people don’t know this, they don’t create one. With a plan, you think about what can make you quit, which can include things like…
- getting sick;
- going on a trip;
- starting a new project at work;
- having guests at home;
- undergoing too much stress.
and you think up some solutions for these scenarios.
THE FIX: Life happens and it’s been known to throw a wrench into our best-laid plans. Even when it looks like everything is going well and you THINK you’ve changed for good, life can happen. Not to expect hiccups and to plan for your own shortcomings is to set yourself up for failure.
5. You don’t make it easier on yourself.
Your partner is often mean and thoughtless so of course, that’s going to drive you nuts. Expecting that you’re going to will yourself to be more understanding of him is making it hard on yourself.
And there are other ways you can make changing a habit easier on yourself. One of the simplest and most basic is to make your environment conducive to change. Emotional support from friends and family is huge. If you’re trying to eat better but your family is having Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays, you’re going to want those things.
THE FIX: See #3. Set your environment up for success by willpower-proofing it. Let your family help and support you. Instead of traditional Taco Tuesdays, you can make a game of trying out new healthy tasty taco recipes.
6. You lack self-awareness.
Self-awareness is a foreign concept to many people because we’re more likely to act on automatic than live in the moment. In fact, some people cringe at the concept of living in the moment and they’re killing their goals and mortgaging their futures as a result. If it’s only after you’ve eaten 3 donuts that you remember you’re supposed to be cutting out sugar, then you need to work on your self-awareness.
THE FIX: Meditation. As I mentioned in #1, we need to focus when we’re learning new things. We naturally run on automatic and just telling yourself to be more mindful, don’ts make you more mindful. But by practicing meditation, you become more aware of your unconscious habits. Meditation also helps you detach from some of your addictions. It’s a powerful tool for change because it helps you see your patterns and your triggers so you can avoid more and more of them.
7. You’re preoccupied with the old, instead of the new.
In Dan Millman’s book, The Peaceful Warrior, the character Socrates said something which has become a change mantra of mine. He said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Don’t think about losing weight as a fight with calories but a process of building good eating habits.
THE FIX: Building the new habit of eating better becomes easier when your focus is on how to eat better. You might come to realize that your efforts to eat well start at the supermarket, not in your kitchen so you don’t bring junk food home. You don’t fight food cravings because let’s be honest, you’re going to lose. Instead, you learn the habits of eating better. You learn that certain spices and coconut milk makes your meals tastier, that you binge eat less when you exercise, and so on.
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.