How To Make A Meaningful Change In Your Life And Actually Make It Stick

In a recent post I wrote about how we are a reflection of our thoughts and habits. We think our thoughts, and we take actions based on those thoughts, which become the habits that shape our personality, which attracts the people who influence our lives, and informs how we interact with the world at large.

So, how to change our patterns? If it were as easy as “changing”, we would just do so. But of course, it’s not that easy. Our thoughts and behaviors are deeply ingrained, so much so that they literally are our experience of the world.

So, how?

Just Do It

Well, you just start. “Dress for the job you want” as the saying goes. “Fake it ‘til you make it”. If you want to change something about yourself, the bottom line is that you just have to go on and do it. Make the change. But here is the key: you then have to endure a certain existential discomfort that follows. This is extremely difficult, for it is a process of literally rebuilding the basic parts of you. I don’t think many of us can “just do it” without first knowing (and acknowledging) that it’s going to be uncomfortable. And that’s where most of us fail.

The Blowback

Often, the “just do it” brand of change is short-lived, as evidenced by every failed attempt at a New Years resolution involving the gym. Why does this happen? Why is it so predictable that it has practically become a holiday joke? 

Because physiology. We’re just built that way. 

The big trick to making meaningful change is to simply know this one thing, and ride it out. 

Whether it’s a feature or a bug is open to interpretation, but for better or worse we are programmed to always maintain a baseline. A baseline for what? Pretty much anything and everything… all the stuff that goes into the ultra-unique experience of feeling the way it feels to be us. Maybe we are always the clown in the room, or we carry unbearable guilt. Perhaps we believe, deep down, that we are a horrible driver, so we become really accident-prone in all parts of life, and oh the drama! Some of us love that drama. On a physiological level, we are actually addicted to it. Others of us are addicted to a spotless home or being the black sheep of the family. Whatever it is, we are all “addicted” to the chemical composition of “us”. 

So when we make a change in our behavior, we upset the delicate balance of things. Our chemical composition literally changes, and we can feel it. We want to go back to the old way, the familiar way, and often we do. But if we stick with it, we develop a new chemical composition. We literally concoct a new “us”. 

Just Like Detox

When an addict is detoxing from a drug, the chemical composition in their body is changing. 

Over time, as their addiction gained a stronger and stronger foothold in their world, it didn’t just change the person’s outward behavior, it changed almost every single thing about that person’s insides too. 

Just like the proverbial frog that boils and doesn’t even realize it, the addict gets used to feeling the way they feel, unhealthy though it may be. This is what they know, this is what feels familiar. And everything that goes along with it: the very high highs, and the crashes too. The desperation and inconvenience of buying more drugs, the disappointment that comes with perpetually letting themselves and everyone they love down. 

In spite of all these negatives, the addict stays the course, because the thought of upsetting that delicate chemical balance is too much. Even if they can’t articulate it as such, that’s what it is. Otherwise, in much the same way as we would just change if we wanted to, they would just quit if they wanted to. 

Change is uncomfortable because it is literally changing the chemical composition we experience in our bodies, the chemicals our brain releases. If you resolve to make a significant change, you must recognize that it’s going to be uncomfortable on the most basic, physiological level. You are not just changing the way you live your life… you’re changing the way your brain lives in you living your life.

Consider The Roadblocks

When it comes to evolving ourselves, the specifics as to what we change are as unique as that personal chemical cocktail each of us knows so well. What it feels like to be us, walk a mile in our shoes, make the decisions we each make, and behave the way we do, is as unique as each of our fingerprints. 

The changes that you want to make in your own behavior will likely be completely different from the changes I want to make in mine. 

But one thing that’s universal, no matter what behavior we are changing, is that we all run into roadblocks. There will be blowback from the decision we make to change. And we need to acknowledge that. It’s in the awareness of what’s coming down the pike, that we can stay the course in whatever change we are trying to make.

The Road To Happiness

Interestingly, this very same concept can be utilized to achieve a measurably higher level of happiness and satisfaction in life as a whole. Making a serious note of potential roadblocks you will encounter, and how you intend to handle them, means that you’re way more likely to actually handle them when they come up. This gives you satisfaction with yourself, your choices, and your achievements. Which amounts to a noticeable boost in happiness.

Let’s go back to the gym example, and why it’s such a cliche that folks are doomed to fail. If you’re a couch potato and have suddenly decided you’re going to get fit, great! But you need a plan that’s more comprehensive than buying a membership and making a little pact with yourself. You need to look closely at the potential roadblocks out there. Your chemical composition looks one way and you want it to look a different way, so that’s going to take some will.

Universal Roadblocks

Start with your basic motivation for going to the gym. Are you doing it because it’s the start of a new year and that’s just what people do? Trying to score a date with that ultra-fit hottie in your office? Just looking to make an ex jealous? Every one of those reasons has a whole set of potential roadblocks built right in. 

  • The gym is crowded (and annoying) at the start of January. Believe me, I have checked. It’s a pain to go so you will want to stop. 
  • Turns out the amount of work it takes to be that ultra-fit hottie makes them no fun to be around at all, so *poof* your motivation is gone after you don’t want to hang out with them anymore.
  • Your ex is not worth the effort, you know this deep down. This realization comes to you at the exact moment your alarm has gone off at 6 am for one too many days in a row.

Personal Roadblocks

Then there are the ways that your specific personality can sabotage your own best efforts. 

  • Are you inherently an unprepared person? Pack your gym bag the night before. 
  • Do you have to take the bus to get there in the morning? Look at the schedule and set your alarm. 
  • Do you know you need a friend to motivate you? Then equip yourself with one. 

Assemble any and all tools that you need to get over your own hurdles, to stay on the new path that you have chosen for yourself. Knowing your tendencies, not only as a human but as you, is how to get there.

Prepare For Withdrawals

Just as the addict experiences a very real physical response to the cessation of drug use, the same thing happens when we make any meaningful change within ourselves. Obviously, there is a reason we want to make this change. It is creating some negative effect within us that we wish to release. 

But, there is also a reason that we have thus far clung to that behavior or habit. We get some kind of rush out of it. It does serve us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. If we could simply make the change, we would. But we don’t, for the same reason the addict says they can quit anytime but they don’t. The answer is in our physiology, and we know it even if we don’t know it. 

So in that way, just like the addict has to just stop, you have to stop and then sit with the discomfort that comes afterward. In time your body will reprogram and recalibrate. There will be a new “how I always feel”, the one you built on purpose, but you have to hang on while your body catches up with the decisions your brain is making. You have to behave as a different person until you truly are a different person. You have to dress for the job you want. Fake it ‘til you make it.

We don’t often want to make a change, because change is uncomfortable. But everything we want is on the other side of the change we need to make. And by knowing what you’re up against, you’ll be better equipped to handle the discomfort. You’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even as you’re entering it, and I think this can really empower you if you let it. 

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