Why is it so hard to change? The hidden costs of behaviour change
Sometimes, we might have a behaviour that we want to change, but never quite manage to actually do it. It could be that you have never taken actual action, have tried repeatedly but keep ‘relapsing’ or that you manage to change for a while but it doesn’t stick.
You might have a habit of people-pleasing, or struggle to give yourself a rest from working too hard. Maybe you find that you don’t reply to your correspondence in a timely fashion, or repeatedly don’t do a particular task Or it may be something bigger; smoking, over or under eating, or drinking too much.
If so, read on.
It can be easy to focus simply on how good it will feel when we do finally get around to doing that thing, how free we will feel, how light. How competent. How clean. How much time or money we might have. How we will feel better.
Now, I’m not saying that all of those things will not be true. If you smoke and you want to give up, for example, there will likely be a myriad of benefits when you finally do; you’ll feel healthier, your lungs will start to recover, you’ll reduce your chance of getting a number of cancers, your clothes won’t smell, you won’t have to plan your day around smoking, you’ll be able to go out for dinner without sneaking off to have a sneaky fag (or wanting to). And so on.
In fact, it is important to know these things. Being able to imagine them gives you a powerful incentive to change.
List these. Hang onto them. REMEMBER them.
The Costs of Change
However, chances are, there will also be a hidden cost to giving up that you might not have spent so much time considering. If this is the case, it might help to look at the following too:
- What might I lose if I give this up / do this thing / don’t do this thing?
- What will I need to face if I do change?
Make a list: it might be that all your friends smoke, and you’ll miss their company. Or that you’ll miss the break and the silence in the noise of socialising, the opportunity to dip out for a moment and collect yourself. It might be that you smoke to curb your appetite, and you’ll need to face your hunger, or you’re frightened you’ll put on weight.
List them all. Every one.
Make a plan
So now you know what you’re frightened of, avoiding, or worrying about. You can make a plan, or sit with the grief of whatever it is you’re losing.
You might find that you don’t smoke with your friends, but that you find other ways of connecting with them, over coffee or dinner. You might find you need to factor in time out into your socialising, if you’re an introvert, or that you need to find another way to de-stress. You might need to enlist specialist support around your fear of putting on weight.
Some questions to ask yourself in this stage are:
- What skills might I need to learn in order to get where I want to be?
- What support might I need to enlist?
- Are there other changes that I can make that will make it easier to achieve my goal?
- Can I break it down into ‘mini’ goals?
It’s fine to fail
This might seem a funny thing to say, but I mean it. Sometimes, we can’t quite know what we are avoiding until we actually stop the thing we want to stop.
So you don’t need to give up, or beat yourself up for not doing it this time. You can use it to learn more about what you’re struggling with, and adjust accordingly. It can take repeated attempts to change, particularly if it’s something really big or difficult.
When to get professional help
You don’t have to be at rock bottom to seek help. It is valid to reach out for support if you’re finding something tricky, or you’d like a professional opinion. Or indeed, it is fine to go the self-help route if that’s what appeals.
However, if you find whatever you’re struggling with is causing you serious unhappiness, distress or worry or is escalating badly, it is worth considering getting some more specialised help. Particularly if it is beginning to get in the way of you living your life; going to work, having close relationships with families and friends, etc.
There are lots of brilliant resources out there; therapists and the like, groups, charities, internet forums… seek out what meets your needs practically, emotionally and financially. It’s fine for this to change as your needs do too.
Take care, and good luck.