What Makes Sustainable Change So Challenging?

Linda Conyard

01 April 2022| Personal Growth

I’m sure we have all struggled with making sustainable change over our lifetime. Let's take creating a New Year’s resolution as an example. Over 80% of these resolutions are abandoned within a week. If change were easy, we wouldn't have the multi-trillion dollar industries that support change. For example, the weight loss industry, the wealth creation industry, and the relationship industry. It can be frustrating when you know what you want to do but can't get yourself to do it consistently. If we know the new behaviour would obviously be of benefit, then what is it that makes change so difficult?

With so much information to help you achieve whatever your goal may be, it’s hard to comprehend how you could possibly fail! If this is the case, then what is missing?

Here’s what comes to my mind immediately:
  • The #1 Reason

The main reason is that we have a well-worn neural pathway in our brain created by repeating the same way of being for a long time. Regardless of how dysfunctional or unhelpful this way of being is to us, we will always revert back to this state unless we can consistently practice the new way of being. We return to this state because it is familiar, and we know how to be in it. Just think about the last course you did, it doesn't matter what the subject was, my question to you is, were you able to sustain the learning from that course? If so, how long were you able to maintain the learning? How long before what you learned in the course became part of your knowledge bank and disappeared from being implemented into your daily life?

The next point is critical in successfully changing the physiological programming in your brain.

  • Support

To successfully change habitual patterning, which comes from our brain's well-worn neural pathway, we need support. It’s essential to gain clarity about what kind of support will be helpful to you during your change process. Often the cookie-cutter approach only meets part of the needs required to sustain any transformation you make.

  • Do you need someone to help you with any blockages or resistance when they arise?
  • ​Do you need someone to listen to you and what matters to you?
  • ​Do you need someone to support you to trust that you have your own inner wisdom?
  • ​Do you need someone to support you to see the emotional connections in what you want to change?
  • Do you need support to recognize how you repeat habitual patterns because these are usually out of the awareness of the person wishing to change?

We often set ourselves up to fail because we usually can't see what is out of our awareness.

Any change will not be sustainable if all aspects of yourself are not considered. For example, if you want to lose weight and the only focus is on food, you may lose some weight, and it's likely you won’t be able to sustain the loss unless your mind and emotional state are considered. The other consideration from an Ayurvedic point of view is your constitution. Different foods have differing actions in people depending on what your constitution is. We are all individuals, and this needs to be acknowledged and valued for change to occur.

To truly make long-lasting changes, there are three things you need to have success.

  • ​Create a connection to your heart and soul;
  • ​Learn the skills that will improve your physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing; and
  • ​Find or use your spiritual alignment because this will nourish you more than anything. This doesn't mean you have to have a particular religion or faith. It means connecting with what it is for you that brings you joy and a sense of there being more than you. It could be being in nature, it could be going to church, or it could be the work that you do. It is different for every individual.

Without this knowledge and awareness, you will continue to do the same things, and you will continue to get the same results. By incorporating these three skills, you are giving yourself the tools for change to occur, and you are empowering yourself to take hold of the reins of your life.

  • Habits

Habits are strong and pervasive because they are subconscious. It doesn’t matter if it’s classified as a good or bad habit. The average person has far more habits than they realize. Each morning, you wake up and follow the same routine. You may take the same path to work. You think the same thoughts as you did the day before. Much of your day and night is a repeat of the last 500. If it is a habit, it is not a conscious action.

Habits avoid thinking. They’re done automatically. Anything that minimizes thinking seems to be your brain’s preference. The fewer decisions, the better. Your habits will always win as long as they stay out of your consciousness.

  • It’s Uncomfortable

It is often the thought of taking the actions necessary to accomplish any change that creates discomfort. Often you already know how to make the change you desire on an intellectual level. If you had to lose weight, I bet you know what to do to make that happen. If you wanted to find a better job, I bet you know what to do to make that happen.

The neural pathway in your brain, which has you being the way you are, is a comfortable place even if dysfunctional and not helpful to you. You know how to be in this. Most of us find it very difficult to sit in discomfort and want to avoid it at all costs. This then becomes one of the most substantial challenges to change.

You may even feel like what you are currently doing is working for you, which then becomes enough. It keeps you in the comfortable range.

We are hardwired for survival, and our brain is programmed to resist change because what you're currently doing is allowing you to survive. If we think about it, the neural pathway created in your brain was initially created as a way of surviving. Any change could potentially be recognized as a threat to your survival. You might be unhappy, but you’re still alive!

Most of us learn to tolerate our circumstances rather than facing uncertainty and being uncomfortable.

Our previous attempts to change go down as failures, and we often start any new effort to change from the subconscious place of knowing that we had tried to change before and failed. It's like we already know somewhere deep inside us that we won't be able to change because we have a data bank of previous attempts and suspect this attempt will be added to that data list.

  • Tips For Making Change

Sustainable change isn’t easy, and it is possible!

  • ​Preparation. Prepare yourself for change. Let the change come into your field. By this, I mean let it filter into your awareness bit by bit. Change will be challenging because you shake up your certainty and comfort
  • Patience. Because of our deep desire to make a change, we become quite energized and excited to get underway. We can bite off more than we can chew and begin to feel how time-consuming and challenging the change process is. Our comfort levels dramatically decrease, and we fall back into our familiar patterns. We find our initial eagerness for change left us after a short time.
  • Pace. One of the primary issues keeping you from following through with your change process is attempting to change too much, too soon. More minor changes are easier to accomplish and maintain. Start small! Implement one part of what you want to change and get that into your DNA. For example, if you want to lose weight, focus on one meal a day that fits with what you want to change. Or, if you want to introduce meditation into your life, start with two minutes a day of just sitting in the spot you plan to use for meditation. Or, if you want to change workplace culture, from what is identified as needing change, choose one part of that and implement it. Allow time for this change to become part of the existing culture and once it is solid, move to the next change and implement it in the same way.
  • Perception. It’s often quoted that a new habit (although I prefer to call it conscious change) requires 30 days to become incorporated into your life. Studies show that it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the change and the person/s. Successful change needs to have realistic expectations and space to become sustainable.
  • ​Presume. Falling off the wagon is to be expected. Remember, you have been operating with that neural pathway for a long time. You will fall back into the familiar way of being. With awareness, you will be able to see this, understand this is normal because it is so familiar and then remind yourself of the change you are making.
  • ​Perfection. Perfection is an illusion that will only serve to derail you and destroy your confidence. Your attempts and work with the change you want to make will be stopped in their tracks. This is one way your old pattern has been able to survive. Simply recognize it and see what is available to you after seeing the part perfectionism plays in keeping you from your full potential.
  • ​Persistence. This is another essential quality to nurture. When you see young children trying to master something, you will see them do it repeatedly. Sometimes they become frustrated, and often they just keep trying. Primarily the adults around them support and encourage them with every attempt. Try to find that kind of support from within and externally if it's available.
  • Pressure. Check-in with yourself to see what you need. We can become conditioned to making things hard or forcing and pushing through things. My approach is more to soften towards yourself, lean into what you are experiencing, and allow the sensations to move through you. Become in tune with what you need to continue the change process.
  • Expand Your Comfort Zone

As I mentioned earlier, most of us avoid discomfort at all costs. It’s one of the most significant limiting factors for many people. Suppose you could allow yourself to become more comfortable with discomfort. In that case, you may find that procrastination, perfectionism, and quitting will not be able to sabotage your efforts. You may find that you can complete everything you ever wanted to accomplish while being compassionate toward yourself. When you change your inner world, you change your outer world.

6 Steps to expand your comfort zone:

  • ​Start with something difficult but not too challenging. Remember, you want to set yourself up to succeed.
  • ​Start slowly. You can always add a little bit of time or extra challenge each week/fortnight or whenever it feels right to increase.
  • ​Learn to lean into a bit of discomfort and realise it will not harm you. 
  • ​Observe your discomfort. You'll likely notice that your discomfort lessens by simply observing and not becoming emotionally involved with your discomfort.
  • ​When the going gets rough, take a deep breath, relax and feel your feet on the ground, and bring your focus to the change process you are working with. Then take the next step.
  • ​Keep yourself in the present moment. This is helpful to break down the big picture of the change you are undertaking into the doable moment-by-moment actions towards your goal.
“We cannot go back and start over, but we can begin now and make a new ending."  -Carl Bard
Our next online program, where you can learn more about change and stretching your tolerance to sitting in uncertainty and uncomfortableness is Journey Back Home, which begins on the 27th of April.

Please reach out if you are interested in how you might be able to transform trauma in your life.

Have an amazing day, and remember, I am here for you. I love to hear how you are going.

May you be well, may you be happy, and may you have inner peace.

Linda

About The Author

Linda Conyard has a Master of Gestalt Psychotherapy, is a Family Constellations Facilitator, and specialises in Trauma Recovery and Transgenerational Trauma Issues in private practice. Linda is an Amici Mortis (friend of the dying) and has studied Contemplative End-of-life care, Midwifing Death, and volunteered with Karuna Hospice from 2007-2021. She is very passionate about Trauma Sensitive Practices becoming part of all major systems, including health, education, justice, and government.

Socialpreneur & Advocate for Healing Unresolved Collective Trauma
Providing her Leadership Enhancing Program - Compassionate Empowered Workplaces
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