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Why is it so hard to change?

If you have ever attempted to make a positive personal change, you know how hard it can be. According to Statistic Brain, almost half (46.2%) of all New Year’s resolutions are self-improvement and health-related. Sadly, over a quarter of people (27.4%) do not maintain their resolutions through the first week of the New Year and nearly one third (31.6%) do not make it past two weeks. By the start of February, 41.6% have given up, and when July rolls around, over half (55.2%) of people who have made resolutions are right back where they started! Perhaps most telling is that 37.8% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions by year’s end compared to only 16.3% of those over age 50.

You may not be one for making New Year’s resolutions but you probably have attempted to make some sort personal change in the past. Like Garfield, you were well-intended, and at some point you worked up the motivation and courage to make the change. However, whether through an immediate barrier or the simple passage of time, you found yourself right back where you started. If this has happened a few times before, you are likely stuck in an unhealthy pattern.

So how do we break out of unhealthy patterns? We need to understand that any type of change is a process of transformation.

When you think of transformation, what comes to mind? Transformation likely conjures up something dramatic and large-scale, where the outcome is significantly different or uneven unrecognizable from the original. For some of us, the idea of transformation may be extremely appealing - we are so frustrated with our current selves that we would do anything to change. For others, though, the idea of transformation may seem too drastic. After all, you may be only looking to lose a couple pounds.

Quick questions: How long have you been looking to lose a couple pounds? Are you successful or where you want to be with these changes?

One of the biggest barriers to personal change is that we fall into a trap of separating two types of change. For example, we may feel that concerns like substance abuse or divorce recovery necessitates a transformative approach due to their seriousness and/or urgency. We consider these serious changes. However, for changes like losing a few pounds, we tend to rate these as less serious and less urgent. Therefore, we tell ourselves that a transformation is not necessary. Instead, we use words like disciplined, intentional, or focused to describe the approach that we think we need to take. We consider these as something much more benign. In short, we feel like less serious change like shedding a few pounds requires little behavioral tweaks here and there that we can fit around our current lifestyle whereas serious change requires a whole-scale internal transformation.

Why, then, have we struggled with trying to lose those same couple pounds (or 20 pounds now that a few years have passed)? Where did the time go?

We need a transformation mindset when it comes to personal change because we have normalized our unhealthy patterns. Simply put, you have become an expert at your unhealthy patterns to the point that you engage in them automatically without much, if any, forethought. Your unhealthy patterns feel more comfortable than making positive changes. Healthy living actually feels uncomfortable!

If you think really carefully, you’ll probably see the extent to which unhealthy patterns are imbedded into your lifestyle. For those wanting to lose a couple pounds, you have a lifestyle that has helped you maintain those couple pounds including factors like: sweet and high-carb snacks at home, a regular night cap or two, eating out for lunch during the work week, and/or driving (instead of walking) the mile to the train station.

You may feel uncomfortable with the factors just listed out and it’s likely that you have a rationale for all of them. Do you see how your rationale and resistance is evidence that you have normalized a lifestyle of gaining weight? You might even say, “But I do go to the gym and it’s not like I’m clinically obese!” And you are right - your current lifestyle is not designed for you to be clinically obese. It is, though, designed to help you keep on those few pounds. If you were to be honest, would you recommend your lifestyle to someone trying to lose weight? Probably not.

This is why we need a transformation mindset no matter how big or small our desired change. We underestimate just how ingrained and imbedded our unhealthy patterns are in our lives. The way we think, feel, and behave are all aligned to support our unhealthy patterns.

Transformation, by definition, is a process that includes discomfort. Transformative change requires us to rethink and adopt a new and more healthy mindset that sets a new normal for our lifestyles. Whereas our old mindset allowed and normalized sugary snacks, our new mindset geared toward transformation will see sugary snacks as non-negotiable and not allowed. We may be able to withhold on sugary snacks for a few days but before long, our cravings kick in. This is further evidence that we have normalized sugary snacks.

To mitigate against the pull of our old and unhealthy mindset, we need to rearrange our lifestyle to give us the best chance of success. This includes ridding our home of sugary snacks, changing our routines to avoid stores or opportunities to purchase sugary snacks, finding a community that also avoids sugary snacks, and having practices of avoiding sugary snacks in place if we find ourselves alone and craving them.

It is absolutely possible to live the life we desire. It requires a complete change in mindset reinforced by behavioral and emotional practices. We need to recognize that we will find ourselves in discomfort as we make the transition from our old selves to our new selves. But the reward is well worth it.

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