Any kind of change is hard. Conscious change can be even harder. As a life coach, it’s my job to understand why some folks find it easier to embrace than others.
Roadblocks on the Path of Change
There are many potential roadblocks to change, starting with the reality that we’re creatures of habit. Change feels odd. I’m sure you can think of at least one behavior that you do over and over again despite its not being particularly useful or beneficial.
Whatever we do regularly – for better, for worse – becomes the default. Change takes us out of our comfort zone. That’s scary. And it’s scary by design. We’re actually hardwired to recognize change as potentially life-threatening.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” wrote HP Lovecraft, “and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
Once you understand that the anxiety aroused by change is not only normal but also expected, the awareness is able to compel you forward.
Authoring a New Life Story
Maybe the most important aspect of achieving successful change is having a New Life Story to grow into. It’s like writing a screenplay in which you’re the protagonist. You assess where you are now, where you’re going, what needs to change, and your next destination. You determine how you’re going to get there and envision the new experiences you will have once you arrive.
As you fully integrate and sustain the changes you’ve made, you take ownership of this new identity you’ve created.
How long will this take? That depends on your goals, your “stick-to-itiveness,” and, to some degree, factors unknown. There are things in life beyond our control. The main thing is to keep moving forward.
Every step, no matter how tiny, brings additional gifts of self-confidence, increased self-awareness, and a stronger capacity for self-change.
Being Ready for Change
Of course, not everyone is ready for proactive change. For instance, there are those who think change sounds interesting – and something they’ll do “later,” where “later” can often mean “never.”
The good news is that conscious change is always possible, at any stage of life. I’m especially inspired by folks well into their 60s, 70s and beyond who embrace it. Perhaps they embark on a new career or make lifestyle changes to improve health or dive into long-desired projects or community service.
When someone says, “I’m too old” – or “The odds are against me” or “I could never do that” or “I’m not good at that” – they’re right. Beliefs drive behavior, and behavior drives performance. Those negative statements are stories people tell themselves, and those stories become self-fulfilling prophecies.
One of my jobs as a coach is to “story-bust” the old and help facilitate the new.
Controlling Your Future
Whether you’re on the verge of self-change or not quite there yet, there’s a yoga sutra from the sage Patangali that you may find as inspiring and enlightening as I do:
Suffering of the future can be avoided. (Heyam dukkham anagatam.)
It’s not that all human suffering can be avoided. Rather, the suffering of which this sutra speaks is our own suffering that we can control by mindful choice. This may include working on aspects of lifestyle such as exercise, diet, or stress reduction. It may include changing habits or attitudes that are draining or blocking energy we might otherwise use to self nurture and heal.
It can even include prioritizing longstanding but dormant dreams, tamped down by lack of confidence or courage. These stagnant ambitions can deplete our reserves and keep us from cultivating all we have to offer.
Suffering comes in many forms. Ultimately, the choices we make determine our perception of it, along with our happiness.
A Time for Renewal
End of year is a natural time to wrap up the old and begin anew. I encourage you use these longer days of darkness to go within and explore the intentions you would like to cultivate in the year ahead.
Consider working with a coach or mentor. It can be one of the most valuable investments you’ll ever make.
One change successfully executed and maintained can generate the momentum you need to grow towards the next version of your self.
Change has a way of cascading.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and resilient New Year!
Image by jordi.martorell, via Flickr