No matter how much we practice, change will always feel uncomfortable. Here’s what to do about it if you want to make changes stick.
So here’s what started me on this topic: I was listening to a group coaching call and one of the questions and answers resonated with other conversations I’ve had recently and things I’ve learnt over the years. The gist of it went like this:
Q: I haven’t done any of the things on my list to start my new business because as soon as I go to start I can hear a voice in my head telling me I’m dumb to try and I’ll never succeed. Then I just don’t start. How can I get rid of this voice?
A: You probably never will. Accept it and start anyway.
So here’s my longer answer about how and why you should make this voice your friend instead of trying to shut it down.
Resistance to change is part of being human
Let’s start by recapping some of our mind’s mechanisms that conspire to keep us exactly as we are. In previous blogs I’ve discussed the:
- three checkpoints in our brain that stop new ideas and actions
We learnt from these blogs that we absolutely can learn techniques and processes to make new connections, alter the chemistry of our cells and sneak past the checkpoints.
However, the reality check is that going off in a new direction will never be plain sailing.
All of these mechanisms serve to get us through life using as little energy to make decisions and as safely as possible. They’re there for a reason and here to stay.
We can use techniques to get us where we want to go. We can remove unuseful beliefs that we’ve been saddled with from our past. And we can learn to sidestep our instinctual behaviour to choose our responses. But this won’t totally remove the internal opposition.
No matter how much we align ourselves and carry out a technique to unlock the checkpoints, change will remain uncomfortable.
So why does this not matter and what should we do about it?
Stuck in an image rut
To answer this, let me tell you a story.
Last year I decided to change my image. Actually, the necessity was thrust upon me when the discount outlet where I bought my clothes six at a time, twice a year, stopped selling women’s clothing.
And it turned out they had been selling their own label so I couldn’t just go somewhere else for them.
I was gutted.
After a bit of resisting and cursing I decided to change this situation into an opportunity. I’d been getting a few pointed remarks in recent years that my clothing style didn’t really support my job title. I’d been ignoring these comments because I was pretty comfortable as I was.
To be honest I didn’t want to dress more grown up as I was afraid to acknowledge I was getting older. Also part of me was happy under-dressing and flying under the radar. Frankly, it was more comfortable for me to dress down and surprise people with my prowess than to act big and have high expectations thrust upon me.
Note that I hate buying clothes. Both the activity and the expense. But since I was going to have to, I couldn’t bring myself to buy full price clothes that weren’t going to be worth it. That included looking for a style that apparently was out of fashion.
So the pain of having to face some internal demons was trumped by hatred for wasting resources: I decided I had to do the job properly and for me that meant finding a style consultant to work with me.
She threw out 85% of my clothes.
She gave me instructions that appalled me.
I went shopping and followed the instructions, and bought $800 worth of outfits I really didn’t like.
I wore them.
I had to because I’d thrown the others away (an excellent tactic for making change stick.)
When I got dressed it felt like every cell in my body was rebelling. My arms felt hyperaware like they were about to come out in a rash. It was excruciating. For a week I could hardly focus on anything else.
People complemented me on my new look. I squirmed.
When I disclosed how I felt to a chosen few, one response was that if I didn’t like the new look why not go back? I didn’t have to change. Maybe the new look wasn’t authentic. What did the stylist know? I didn’t need to conform.
That response, though, missed the point. I didn’t HAVE to conform. I wanted to. I chose to. Despite the discomfort.
It turned out that it took three months before I could select clothes in the morning without a sense of doom but I kept at it. And what happened?
The new look
Now, a year later, there are outfits in the new wardrobe I like, and some not so much. I’ve added to my new look, in particular selecting handbags and shoes that I’d never have bought in the past but which helped me become resigned to my new rules, then adapt them to make them more mine.
I take my new rules into consideration whenever I make new purchases. I have to work a bit harder to find things that fit the new requirements and that I also like.
But nowadays I go to meetings and feel comfortable in my clothes.
And while I’m not yet 100% happy with my look, I’ve loosened up my viewpoint and am looking around with a greater ability to assess my options. So what’s the point of this story?
Change is uncomfortable
So here’s the thing.
The point is – as I said before – I wanted to change. And once I started, I knew from the feedback from my body (and from other people) that I was changing.
But if you want to change you need to stay alert. If you drop your guard you run the risk of allowing your brain to make instinctive choices. And it will choose the comfortable way and before you know it things will be back to where they were without you even noticing.
Back to the story… Realising how big the change was for me, I was waiting for the resistance. Thus, I could acknowledge the discomfort and carry on. I knew that the change would be complete when I no longer felt uncomfortable – I just had to stick to it.
So, if you’ve taken action to make a change – when the uncomfortable feelings come up, or you hear voices in your head, or the real voices of your friends telling you to go back – embrace the discomfort for showing you the way.
It means you’re on the road to change and if you just keep it steady the way you’re going you’ll see success. Thank the feelings, and the voices, for caring and letting you know you are changing. And then ignore the messages, rejoice and go for it!
Have you made a change and been aware of physical discomfort or critical voices in your head? What did you do? Did you manage to make the change stick? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Or if you’re ready to make a change and can’t throw out clothes to keep yourself honest, or if you’re interested in other techniques drop me a line me a line to explore how I can help you achieve your goals.