Alt-Health: Changing … And Not

new-year_resolutions_listMost of us who are making resolutions this year have already made the same promise at least once, possibly many times. So why do we keep falling back into the same rut over and over again? Because personal change is really freakin’ hard, and navigating that particular mine field it is not a subject we are taught in school. Here’s a crash course: “Why People Don’t Change, 101.”

You don’t really want to change. Many of the resolutions we make are not for ourselves, but to please other people. Your partner may want you to stop smoking and you try just to keep the peace, but you don’t really care. Or you resolve to lose 10 pounds, but it’s about looking hot at the beach, not due to any real concern for your health; when beach season is over, so is your diet. If you aren’t motivated for a deep and true reason, you aren’t going to change.

Your friends don’t want you to change. Most people surround themselves with an entourage that supports their current lifestyle. If you decide to change your ways, and no one else does, your friends can become your worst enemies. Why? Well, for one thing, your virtue and resolve makes them look bad; they may feel guilty or judged. For another, you just aren’t as much fun anymore. So it’s not unusual for your friends to sabotage you in seemingly well-intended ways. If you’re on a diet, they show up with your favorite cheesecake. If you gave up drinking they gift you with a six pack of beer.

Your brain doesn’t want you to change. Human beings are hard wired to be creatures of habit. It doesn’t matter if our habits are good or bad, our systems want to maintain the status quo. There is a sensation that comes with change that is like swimming against the current or rubbing fur the wrong way; we are fighting the direction of an established flow and it just feels wrong. And when we make a big change, we often feel worse before we start to feel better. It’s only natural to return to what feels right.

Change is the unknown. Nothing is scarier. This is why people stay with abusive partners or remain stuck in dead-end jobs. The situation may be crappy and awful, but it’s OUR crappy and awful. We end up dragging those sacks of oppression around with us like dear, tattered blankets from childhood. They are somehow comforting simply by being familiar. Add to that the fact that something better seldom drops immediately into our laps, and the prison we just walked out of starts looking like the Biltmore … or at least a reasonably clean Hotel 6.

You have no clear idea about HOW to change. You may genuinely want to lose weight, stop drinking, control your anger or get a better job. Great! But too many of us imagine that if we are motivated enough, we can push through by our mighty will power. We throw out every pill, bottle or box of Twinkies in the cupboard, clench our teeth and hope for the best. But this is the way of fools. Today there are effective systems and support groups to help deal with every problem from gambling to sex addiction. If you truly want to change, others will help you. But do we ask for help? Nope. We bang our heads against the wall and hope the plaster cracks before we do.

Change can take a lot longer than you think. You don’t reverse the habits of a lifetime in two weeks. Before real change can sink in, there’s a lot of repair work that has to be done along with it, both physical and emotional. But we don’t want to deal with all that extra crap. We are a very results-oriented society and we want to see something happen NOW. Unfortunately, the faster a change happens, the more likely it is that we will lose it just as quickly. Every counselor at Diet Center knows that a client needs to maintain weight loss for several months before they can reasonably expect it to stay off. And any smoker or addict will tell you that the cravings never entirely go away.

You don’t get the result you expect when you finally reach your goal. Maybe you imagined that if you lost 20 pounds, upgraded your job or learned French, that your life would suddenly be wonderful. What you forgot is that you can change everything about yourself, but you are still you. If you lack social and relationship skills, you will be no more popular as a size 2 than you were as a size 20.You can rearrange the window dressing, but it’s still the same house. If your resolution was purely cosmetic, you haven’t really changed anything at all.

Sometimes, the most meaningful change we can make is to accept who we already are.