This Is Why You’re Having Trouble Making Lasting Change

Silhouette of woman jumping in the air on the beachBelieve it or not, taking the first steps in making change is not the hard part. Even though making up your mind to lose weight, stand up to your parents, or find a new job is a big hurdle and a good first step, it’s only one of many steps on the road to transformation. Once started, real lifestyle changes are darned tough to maintain; a University of Scranton study found that 92% of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail to keep them.

So much of our energy goes into preparing to start a new goal. And yet, often, the adrenaline and promise of those first days makes jumping into them easier than continuing them. Three weeks later, it’s a different story: trying something bold and new has lost its excitement factor, and with the hard work kicking in, it’s common to sink back into the couch, the Cheetos, and the familiar patterns.

Knowing what you’re up against may make it easier to find long-lasting solutions. Here are some universal pitfalls to creating and sustaining change.

1. I’m not seeing results right away.

When we start a resolution—This week I’m going to cut out all sugar—we’re often enthusiastic and energetic about it. It’s exciting, it’s new, and we’re proud of ourselves. But often there’s a time lag between, say, starting an exercise program and seeing results on the scale, or quitting smoking and having relief from constant urges. Then we might start to think, Why go through all this pain and not get right to the benefits? Why bother? Hanging in through the middle phase of the new behavior turns out to take a lot of stamina and faith.

That’s where support can be a key factor in creating change. There’s a reason weight-loss centers offer in-person one-on-one meetings, support groups, or online chat forums; that kind of personal touch has been shown to give a huge boost to members’ ability to stick with the program. Finding a friend to partner with in your resolution (taking walks together, for instance), using a life coach or therapist to work through resistance, or using a support group online or in person is a great way to boost your commitment and to have a little more fun in the process.

2. The people around me don’t agree with the changes.

Perhaps you’re hoping to quit your job and start a new career, but your partner thinks it’s too risky. Or you want to reconcile with your mother, which makes your sister furious. It’s hard enough to put the work into making the change, but to have the people closest to you oppose it can cause you to want to give up right away.

When our friends and family are less than supportive of changes we are working hard on and feel strongly about, it’s a real letdown. We expected them to be cheerleaders, and instead they’re sabotaging us. Knowing this is a possibility can help ease our disappointment. Don’t assume everyone around you will be supportive, and use other tools to keep your resolve—journaling, meditating, and using calming self-talk (This is important to me and good for those around me) are just a few ways people motivate and care for themselves during stressful times. Also, having other people around who fully back us (there’s that support group again!) gives us strength and hope.

3. The people around me are making it harder for me to keep my resolve.

There’s a term in psychology called homeostasis, which theorizes that people want to keep whatever system they have going, even when that system isn’t fully working for them. In other words, change is scary even if it’s good for us. So we can’t expect our family members or friends to jump for joy when we begin to take better care of ourselves. A new, healthier lifestyle might cause some friends to feel jealous or left behind.

Sometimes even people who want the best for us can get in our way. One common example is when one person in a group decides to quit drinking, and the other group members continue to urge that friend to have “just one,” or stop inviting the person along to watch the game. It’s an unconscious desire for homeostasis that’s driving them, and it’s best dealt with either directly, by gently pointing it out, or indirectly, by drafting one of the friends as an ally and coach in the new lifestyle. When they feel included and relied on, many people will rise to the occasion and put their own insecurities aside.

4. I’m changing, but it isn’t the magic pill for happiness I had expected.

Many of us can spend years fantasizing about how perfect everything will be as soon as we (fill in the blank). If you think you’ll be a new person when you’re a size 8, but then begin making progress toward your goal and feel little difference in your daily happiness, you may be hard-pressed to continue.

Setting realistic expectations for change is essential. To quote Buckaroo Banzai, “Everywhere you go, there you are”; in other words, you can’t escape your basic nature, and changing the externals isn’t going to create instant happiness where there was none before.

Setting realistic expectations for change is essential. To quote Buckaroo Banzai, “Everywhere you go, there you are”; in other words, you can’t escape your basic nature, and changing the externals isn’t going to create instant happiness where there was none before.

Change can be revelatory, but it can also be merely fun—or barely noticed. This is why you have to do it not for extraordinary rewards but for the process itself. Do it because you want to prove to yourself that you can, or because the journey will be full of lessons and opportunities to grow.

In the end, it isn’t a black-and-white equation—i.e., either you change totally or you don’t change at all. If you start a resolution by thinking about taking it one day at a time instead of focusing on the end point, you’ll be able to enjoy every step of it—even the relapses, or what I like to call “reevaluating.” After all, most experiences don’t end up exactly where we thought they would.

If we can let the journey unfold in any way it chooses, with each new bend in the road bringing its own challenges and rewards, then wherever we end up, that’s where we’re meant to be. All 92% of us.

Reference:

Diamond, D. (2013, January 1.) Just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how they do it. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/#2715e4857a0b5a5ba18a304c

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Vicki Botnick, MA, MS, LMFT, therapist in Tarzana, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • mARIAN

    mARIAN

    January 20th, 2016 at 9:08 AM

    Yep this is me. If I do not see some changes taking effect immediately then I am totally off the wagon. I know in my head that things take time to see some real and lasting change but you know, we are immediate gratification kind of people and there you go.

  • Martine

    Martine

    January 20th, 2016 at 11:09 AM

    I so appreciate finding this because I have always associated my lack of success with this on me. You know, I don’t have the willpower, I am just not strong enough to make these kinds of lasting changes.

    What I did not understand until now is that a lot of this is not about me. I do not have a very strong supportive group of family who is encouraging me. Instead it has always felt like they do everything that they can to make sure that I fail at my goals, and well, that is pretty sad.

    Maybe next time I decide to give this a try I just keep all of my little goals to myself and silently cheer as I reach each and every one of them.

  • Lora

    Lora

    January 20th, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    It can’t be a change just because it is a certain time of the year
    this has to be something that you want whether it is Jan 1 or Sept 30
    the time of year doesn’t matter
    but the mindset and the attitude about achieving it does

  • maggie w

    maggie w

    January 21st, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    if this is not the magic pill for happiness that you anticipated then maybe you are looking in all the wrong places for that happiness?

  • Mauney

    Mauney

    January 21st, 2016 at 11:08 AM

    What about the people who ask you to just take a little taste, just one bite, or whatever when they know good and well that you are trying to be mindful and watch what you eat.

    Those people to me are so jealous of your intent that they will do what they can to sabotage your efforts. Those are the kind of people that I just do not need in my life.

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    January 21st, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    Exactly, Lora and Maggie W, we so often pin our hopes on one, outside change and forget that real contentment is deeper than that. Thanks for the feedback, Martine, and I’m sorry to hear that the people you most want to support you aren’t able to do that. I hope you find another avenue to get encouragement. Marian, it’s so true that we all want to see changes happening FAST! If we hang in there and wait, even just a little progress can be so motivating.

  • lora

    lora

    January 22nd, 2016 at 7:21 AM

    Thanks Vicki! This is the kind of interaction and support that we all will find that we need when we want to see real and honest changes in our lives.

  • Neeta

    Neeta

    January 22nd, 2016 at 8:08 PM

    Absolutely true
    A good sensible, realistic approach to change is the best way forward. Step by step do what is tailored to you. Don’t compare yourself to others.
    Keeping a daily routine and achieving let’s say that walk for 10 mins everyday
    Soon adds up in the year, that’s some achievement. It shows that a person has been able to do something small and has completed the task without
    Setting unrealistic targets.
    This everyone can do. Be positive, happy with yourself no matter what size you are. Slow and steady always be successful.

  • Lowell

    Lowell

    January 25th, 2016 at 8:15 AM

    here I am the end of the month and still haven’t been able to commit to it and get going yet

  • LizzieLouThatsWho

    LizzieLouThatsWho

    January 25th, 2016 at 6:19 PM

    I started last June cutting out gluten/bread from my diet and eating simply. Meat, vegetables, fruit, salad, water. The weight started coming off. I started taking a vitamin/mineral supplement by Youngevity and it curbed my appetite. I gave up coffee and started drinking herbal teas with honey. I lost 25 pounds by November and have another 17 pounds to lose but I am not looking at the weight loss. That is not my motivator. Good health, better skin, sleep and good digestion is my goal. Weight loss is a by-product. I look at food and judge whether it’s healthy for me or not, before I eat it. It’s been a paradigm shift for health, and not vanity, which is why it’s working.

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    January 25th, 2016 at 9:13 PM

    Lizzie Lou and Neeta, great advice for making true, long-lasting change, by not focusing on the end point or even on the superficial aspects of the goal. Thinking about health and taking it step by step are not as exciting as planning to lose 2 dress sizes, but they are more realistic–and often more achievable.

  • Paulette

    Paulette

    January 26th, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    I have wanted to start saving money this year because that has never been something that I have been very good at. I found this guideline for saving so much change per week and at the end of the year I am supposed to have like $500 or so? it seems like it is something manageable, not overwhelming, so I am on my fourth week of doing it now and so far so good. Anyway that has been what it is abut for me, taking small steps to hopefully make some very big and lasting differences.

  • Freddie

    Freddie

    January 28th, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    I used to step on the scales every day and when there wasn’t a noticeable change on a daily basis I would start to fall back into my same old bad habits. Why did it even matter if I worked hard if I wasn’t going to see some immediate changes?

    It wasn’t until I stepped away from the scale for a while and then would go back to it only every now and then that I could really see visually that I was making some changes in my lifestyle and that they were really helping me achieve my goals. But I had to get away from it all for a moment before I could see that for sure.

  • Chloe

    Chloe

    January 30th, 2016 at 6:29 PM

    My mantra is always I will start tomorrow
    and then tomorrow turns into the next day
    and in the end I am never even starting to work on those changes much less making any lasting progress

  • christopher

    christopher

    January 31st, 2016 at 5:49 PM

    would it be strange if I said that I think that my family feels threatened by the changes that I want to make so they are not being very helpful to me?
    How do I do this without them, but at the same time I think that I am having a hard time doing this with them too.

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    February 1st, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    Paulette and Freddie, isn’t it great how we find the personal tricks and tweaks, whether it’s taking the long view or starting in a gradual way, that make us successful? Christopher, I think what you’re feeling is more common than you’d think. I hope you can find supportive people who can back you up when you feel like your family is getting in your way.

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