Over the past few weeks, I came accross the question why it’s sometimes so hard to change something about ourselves — a behavior, a habit, a perpective or belief – in various contexts. Most of the time, we hit that roadblock when we set our sights on something, such as a sports goal, or when we feel like we end up in the same place again and again certain areas of our lives — a place we don’t want to be.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”
We are well aware that we should be doing something differently. Most of the time, we even know what and how. So the problem is not that we don’t know what to do, but that we don’t do what we know.
Why do we get stuck?
This week and the following ones, I’d like to introduce you to a few of these roadblocks – and also how you can overcome them.
Not all of them may apply to you, but maybe you will recognize yourself in one or the other.
What all obstacles have in common: they arise from a force that we tend to underestimate. Some call it the inner pig, others the elephant – meaning our subconscious.
Let’s stay with the picture of the elephant. Imagine that you are the rider of this elephant. You know the direction, where you want to go, maybe you have already planned out everything. But that is no guarantee that the elephant will start moving.
How do you get him to move?
In the end, it is about bringing the two systems in us – the conscious and the unconscious (recommendation for an interesting book on this at the end of this article) – into harmony. These two systems interact continuously and inseparably. Normally, we believe that our conscious mind has the upper hand. However, numerous studies (see link to Mark Solms) still come to the same conclusion: when our conscious mind makes a decision, our subconscious mind has long since contributed to it.
So what moves the elephant and what makes it “buck”?
Our elephant is very sensitive to two main aspects:
- Our attitude – What we think about what we are doing and about ourselves – including the elephant
- Our behaviour – What we actually do or don’t do. Our elephant measures whether we really mean what we say by our actions.
Let’s start with attitude.
Roadblock 1 – rigour – or: pressure creates counter-pressure
What is your reason for wanting to change something about yourself?
Something like “I’m too fat, too emotional, unreliable, messy, …?”
How exactly do you convince yourself that you really want it?
With sentences that start with “I must / have to …”?
And how do you talk to yourself when things aren’t going the way you want them to?
“Why is this still not working?” // “I can’t get anything done.” // “I’m just too stupid, too weak, too dumb …”
Do you know such or similar sentences?
Imagine you would try to convince a good friend to change something with these sentences – or comment on his/her lack of progress.
How likely is it that the friend will open up to what you have to say?
If the desire for change is initiated by an accusation, how likely is it,
that the desire will be considered?
Why should your elephant start moving for you, why should your body and mind joyfully follow your desires when you see them as your enemies?
How friendly are you to yourself?
How could you convey your intentions to yourself – and to your elephant – with more loving kindness?
- Everything had its reasons – and its time
How about starting with the perspective that the inner “programs” you want to change had evolved for a reason. They are a part of you, an experience, something that served you well those days. But now the reasons have changed or are no longer there and therefore it is simply time for an “update”.
- Joyful expectation
What is the good thing about it, if your inner change works out? Why is it worthwhile, why attractive? And isn’t it then rather an “I can and I will” instead of an “I must/I have to”?
- Sustainable assurance instead of bad conscience
And if it doesn’t work yet – don’t look away, don’t dramatize, don’t self-accuse. Look with curiousity at the intermediate state of your project, learn from it, draw your conclusions and plan again. Keep going, without accusations and bad conscience but with sustainable certainty that you can do it.
Harnessing our elephant is an art. But especially when outside conditions are stressful or less benevolent (whether people or circumstances), it is important that we are at peace with ourselves. We rarely have any influence on external circumstances, but we do on our elephant.
Peaceful change is joyful change.
Be good to yourself!