Inside Out: One of the keys to lasting change

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
– Francis of Assisi

It’s one of those unique qualities of being human — regardless of what it looks like to the outside world — the majority of people have a deeply rooted desire to improve, to get better at something, to transform an area of their lives. Whether that’s related to work, relationships,or our health — some things we need to stop doing and some things we want to start doing. Change is one of the key ingredients that allow us to grow and mature.

It’s only taken me about 20 years to get that idea settled into my life. It’s rather embarrassing to say what I originally thought about change when I started working with people. I actually thought that if someone took the time out of their schedule and paid me to talk about things that are very difficult in their lives,then they must be ready to change. I began to realize over time that it actually told me very little about their desire to change, their motivation to change, or even their belief about the possibility of change.

I’ve learned a few things about the process of change from therapy and research, and I’ll share some of them in the blogs to come. But first, we need to be more honest with ourselves. We need to start the process of change with where we “are”, not where we think we “should” be.

Take, for instance, New Year’s resolutions. A lot of people think they need to get healthy in the New Year, probably because of the excessive eating and lack of exercise during the holidays, so every health club in the month of January is packed to the brim. But most of the newcomers at the gym don’t really want to change; they just feel bad about the choices made over the past couple of weeks. Rather than over-committing, it would be better if they would start walking or jogging a couple of times a week.

Second, there is a difference between compliance and change. Usually, compliance is somebody trying to change us. I often say “I’m not sure where in the city my wife is right now, but if she’s talking to a friend about something that she thinks I need to change, I can feel that conversation 20 miles away and I’ll start my resistance.” People hate being forced to change, and compliance is just a strategy to get them to quit talking to me about what they think I should do. But if I’m actually open to change, if I’m the one doing the work, then I just might end up starting a change process that lasts. Compliance and change are two very different things. For lasting change, at some point, there has to be something that happens internally as well as externally.

Even though we are well versed on the subject, it’s still both fascinating and mysterious to not only observe the process in others, but to experience it first hand. If you’re willing to risk, then you will never be, as Teddy Roosevelt once said “A cold and timid soul that knows neither victory nor defeat. ”