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This is a continuation of last week’s post, where I shared the first seven reasons we might not be making the changes we want to make (if you haven’t read it, I recommend doing so before moving on). This week, I want to share six more reasons and a few thoughts about how to tackle them…
8. You’re experiencing confirmation bias
We view new information, situations, and opportunities through the lens of what we already believe. In some situations, this can be helpful (for example, “assuming the best” is a lens I endeavour to use). It can also be unhelpful. If we believe we aren’t good enough, we will unconsciously hone in on experiences that (from our perspective) prove this belief, while filtering out experiences that contradict it. This means if deep down we don’t think we can make the changes we want to make, we will look for information that confirms that hypothesis, and reject information that suggests otherwise.
The first step to overcoming confirmation bias is to notice it and to open ourselves up to all information: that which confirms our existing beliefs and that which encourages us to create new ones. The next time you notice yourself spotlighting all the evidence you can’t make the change you want to make, ask yourself: “What’s the evidence I can do this?”
9. You’re using an external locus of control
Our “locus of control” describes the degree to which we feel we’re in control over the events of our lives and what causes our actions. An internal locus of control means we believe we have more control, and external locus of control means we believe we have less control (note: this isn’t determined how much control we say we think we have, but how we actually behave).
We don’t inhabit a fixed point on the internal-external scale: our sense of control and agency shifts from experience to experience. Most situations contain elements we can control and elements we can’t, and it benefits us to pay attention to those we can. If someone rear-ends us at a set of traffic lights because they’re busy texting, that’s not something we can control, but making sure we have adequate insurance to cover incidents like that is.
When we have an external locus of control, we feel at the mercy of other people, our environment, and other external forces. This mindset makes it harder to make the changes we want to make because we feel like we’re always being blown off course by things outside of our control. This can leave us feeling helpless, demotivated, and stuck. If we have an external locus of control, we’re more likely to blame our failure to make changes we want to make on things like being too busy, a lack of support from other people, it was too rainy to go running, etc.
With an internal locus of control, we’re more likely to explore what we can control and influence in the situation. If we’re too busy, how can we free up more time to focus on our desired change? If our partner isn’t giving us the support we want, can we try talking to them about it, or seeking support elsewhere? If it’s raining all week, can we go running indoors or invest in some wet weather gear?
10. You’re doing what worked for someone else, not what works for you
As I mentioned in the previous post, having a role model for your change can be helpful. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that what works for them won’t always yield the same results for you. Besides, what works for someone who is two steps ahead of you at this stage of their journey might not work for you where you are on your journey. Knowing when to heed the advice and when to say “thank you!” before going your own merry way is an important part of becoming who you are. Trying to fit ourselves into a mould that just isn’t right for us will leave us feeling anxious, out of place, and stuck. I’ve found this hard in the past. Part of me feels deferential to authority figures so, if someone sounds like they know what they’re talking about, I think they must know better than me. Not always the case! I often have to remind myself that I’m the one living my life, no one else, so I have permission to go my way, in my style, and in my timeframe.
11. You have a fixed mindset
Growing up, I believed I was unathletic. This belief was rooted in a fixed mindset: I thought you either were athletic or you weren’t, and I was in the “not” camp. That belief also came with a smidgen of shame. So I would avoid any situation that came with the potential to show my so-called innate lack of athleticism and stay in my comfort zone.
As an adult, I’ve done many things that contradict that belief, whether that’s cycling from London to Brighton, hiking up volcanoes, or doing two 8-week cycles of Insanity back-to-back. In fact, I am athletic! And I love me a good physical challenge. But until I changed my thinking about this from “you either have it or you don’t” to “this is something I can improve over time,” I didn’t give myself the chance to try all these new experiences. The truth is most things we believe to be “fixed” about ourselves aren’t. Intelligence, optimism, skills—these are all things we can influence and change. Before we can do that, though, we need to accept they are changeable. As long as we are holding on to beliefs we’re “Just not someone who is X” (athletic/creative/good with money/can lose weight/insert your own desired change here), we won’t make the changes we want to make.
12. You don’t really want to change (yet?)
Sometimes, we kinda sorta want to change but we don’t want to want to. And, if that’s where you are, that’s a fine place to be.
The saying “if you’re not changing, you just don’t want it enough” is popular in the personal growth and coaching worlds. It’s a statement thrown around as fact when the reality is often far more nuanced and complicated. As the two posts in this series have shown, there are many reasons we might encounter stumbling blocks when changing our lives. Suggesting that any time we find change hard it’s because we don’t want it enough lacks understanding and, at worst, is shaming.
But, while I don’t agree with that theory as a blanket statement, there are certain situations in which it applies. Sometimes we think we want to make a change because that’s what other people have told us we should do, or because we’re listening to old internal scripts about the way we should live and the person we should be. But we—our true selves—don’t actually want to make that change. And not wanting to change isn’t a sign you’re lazy/a coward/a loser, but a sign you’re listening to yourself and challenging those “shoulds.”
We also might not have reached that point where the pain of staying where we are is greater than the pain of making the change (this is similar to the point about discomfort in the previous post). In this case why would we trade less pain for more pain? That doesn’t mean we can’t make the change, but if we’re struggling and this is the reason, it’s important to acknowledge and accept this is where we are right now.
A useful line of questioning in this situation is: If, one year from now, I haven’t made this change, how am I going to feel? What is my life going to look like? What impact will it have on other areas of my life? What about five years from now? What about 10 years?
And, if I make this change, how am I going to feel one year from now? What is my life going to look like? What impact will it have on other areas of my life? What about five years from now? What about 10 years? As well as thinking about your responses to these questions, allow yourself to feel your emotional response too. Put yourself in the shoes of Future You one, five and 10 years from now. Imagine what it would be like to be him or her.
How does that shift your perspective in the present?
13. You’re looking for a magic bullet
Change takes time, and anyone from the “you can just decide to be happy!” school of thought who tries to sell you on the idea there is one thing that will transform your life and make all your troubles disappear is deceiving themselves and you. This is a common mindset and one that is enticing. The dark side of this is that a) it’s not true, and b) if you’re someone for whom change doesn’t come easy (most of us), it can leave you wondering whether there’s something wrong with you given other people manage to spirit away their issues and your journey is taking longer. The good news is wherever you’re starting from, change can happen. There won’t be one magic bullet that will solve your problems and drastically improve your life for the better. It’s likely to be a combination of things, plus dedicated effort on your part. But it is possible and yours for the taking.
Whatever change you’re wanting to make, and whatever obstacles you’ve come up against so far, know this: the possibility of change comes with each new breath. It starts now, whether it’s 8 am or 10 pm, Monday or Thursday, December or July.
As the saying goes “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” What are you going to do with it?