Why is change so hard?

Updated: 6 days ago

Many people make New Years resolutions. But by the time February has rolled around, most of those resolutions are long gone. How is it possible that a change we were so excited about could be thrown by the wayside so quickly?

Change is difficult and the science behind why it's so hard to change is multifaceted. But let's talk about one of the most common barriers to change: the desire for comfort.

The Desire for Comfort

Change is always uncomfortable, and if there is one thing our brains hate, it's being uncomfortable. The best way to ensure you are comfortable (at least from your brain's perspective) is to stay where you are and keep doing what you've always done. Stay in that job that you hate. Don't reach out for help. Avoid setting those boundaries. At best, our brains interpret the discomfort of change as an annoyance. But at worst our brains imagine the discomfort of change as a threat to our survival. After all, we've made it to this point, so what we are doing has allowed us to survive (maybe not be thrive, but at least survive). From our brain's perspective, survival is the only real goal, so why risk a change if you are achieving that goal?

So when you try to change, your brain will notice the inevitable discomfort and tell you to avoid it. How can you change if the goal is to seek out comfort at all cost? We will talk more about other strategies for change in the future, but to get you started, think about ways that you could decrease and/or tolerate the discomfort associated with the change you want to make. Here are four strategies you can start using now:

1. Make the changes as small as possible, so you don't have to put in a lot of effort at first. You can work up to big changes overall, but the steps you take to get there should be small and relatively effortless. Wait until each small change becomes a habit before moving onto the next change.

2. Make your environment work for you. If you want to start writing a book but your desk is cluttered with distractions and your phone is constantly chiming, it is going to be more uncomfortable to avoid those distractions and write. On the other hand, making your environment quiet and free from distractions can decrease the discomfort you feel when trying to write. You are less likely to be reminded of old habits if your environment is more conducive to your new habits.

3. Embrace and reframe the discomfort. Remind yourself that the discomfort you are feeling is a sign of growth and progress. Lean into it and remind yourself that you are strong enough to handle discomfort. You can sit with the discomfort and not act on it. You can decide to not take the easy way out and immediately relieve that discomfort.

4. Remind yourself of your goals and the emotions you will feel when you reach these goals. You can do this in your head or by posting reminders of how you envision yourself feeling when you reach your goals. Try to imagine this in as much detail as you can. Tapping into these potential future positive emotions can make the discomfort more bearable.

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