Here is why personal change is easier said than done – and how to make it really happen. It’s like our old ways – the habits or old ways we want to change – are a well worn path across a field of long grass.
Our old habit is very firmly established. We know it very well. So well in fact that we can do this old habit without even thinking. It takes no effort really, because the path is so worn and smooth.
Imagine you decide one day to make a new path across the field, to take a new route – how long do you think it would take to make that new path? How many times would you have to walk along that new route before there was a clear path? Before the grass was worn away by your footsteps?
And imagine how long it would take for nature to reclaim that old path after you stopped going that way? Before the grass came back and filled the path in, and the path disappeared and there was just grass there?
This analogy creates a vivid picture of what happens when we set out to make personal changes – the number of repetitions and the amount of time it takes are greater than we might think at first.
Here are two of the biggest reasons it is so challenging to make personal changes that endures:
1. It takes many many repetitions for the new habit to become established (like walking on your new route through the field enough times so the new path emerges and becomes clear).
2. It also takes a long time for nature to reclaim that old path and for it to fade and eventually disappear. In the early stages of change our old habit remains accessible, and vibrates with all of it’s magnetic power, calling to us – which is why it is so very easy to slip back to the old ways.
One of the reasons making personal changes that endure is so difficult is that we are actually making a new neural pathway in our brain, and it takes a lot of time and many repetitions before the new pathway is established. It is like a familiar path through a field that you might take on your regular walks in the morning for exercise In our brain, it is the same way – it takes a long time before the new neural pathway is established and for the old one to fade and disappear. All of this will happen surely, with enough time and enough repetitions.
So what can you do about this if you really want to improve your life and make some positive changes?
An essential first step is this recognition of what it takes to succeed. This will help sustain you through the inevitable set backs you’ll experience along the way as you create your new path. You’ll be better prepared and more likely to keep going and persevere until your new habit is well established and integrated into the way you live your life.
This is really the first of three steps in making personal changes. Here is a summary of all three steps:
- The first step is clear awareness of your present situation and what you want to change, with a recognition of what it will take to make this happen.
- The second step is creating a vision of your future (the new improved version of you that you want to create), committing to taking the necessary action, and then actually taking action.
- The third step is support and reinforcement that will help you stay with it long enough so that it has a chance of becoming integrated into how you live your life.
All of these steps are necessary if we want to make changes that endure. The third one is especially important. It is a reminder that we are not alone, that we live in community, and our lives are enriched with the support and love of our family and friends.
Often we look at making changes and improvements in our life like a project or some unpleasant task. If you share what you are up to and enroll others in supporting you, it makes this journey of change feel simply like the way you are living your life. This helps make the new version of you seem possible and accessible. So you can make change happen.