Have you ever promised yourself that you would get in shape? Ever made a new Year’s Resolution that you couldn’t keep? Have you ever tried to make a radical change in your life? Ever been on a crash diet?
Don’t even bother. The likelihood that radical change will last is so low that if I showed you the statistics on dieting you would order a pizza. Real change rarely happens all at once, and when it does it is almost always because you have been trying and fretting and hoping and failing at it for so long that you are ready. You hurt so much and for so long that you have to change.
With few exceptions the majority of us wildly overestimate our ability to make significant change over a short period of time. Real change is incredibly hard and ordinarily demands months and years of work. Most of us do not get healed over night. I am not denigrating those of you who may claim supernatural relief but for most of us God does not choose to deliver us from our ADHD, or our abuse, or our mental issues. The vast majority of us can not claim fire from heaven, or legs regrown, or our malignant tumor disappearing. For some reason we must do it for ourselves or it isn’t going to get done.
We all want monumental change and we want it yesterday. Unfortunately, however, change that dramatic is often artificial and impossible to maintain. Ask any spouse who has decided to call it quits only to be bombarded by promises from their estranged spouse that, in spite of nothing happening for decades, they have totally changed overnight.
I also believe in the tooth fairy.
As a counselor I regularly meet clients who brag that they are radically redefining themselves virtually overnight. In just a few days they have stopped smoking, started working out, become a vegetarian, stopped self-medicating, got religion, and are going to become a counselor. In my business we call this a “red flag”. Such change rarely lasts. These people have the best of intentions and are incredibly dedicated, almost too dedicated. They have not considered the cost, or the fact that real change must be long-lasting. Authentic growth requires an alteration in lifestyle and the development of new coping mechanisms. In order for growth to become permanent you need to fundamentally change the way you think.
Most of us have tried for years to ‘fix’ our lives. We have tried everything and usually failed. That’s perfectly fine. Most of us, myself included, have tried to do the best we could with the wisdom and coping skills we had. We were told by people who should know that this quick fix, that power diet, that ridiculous philosophy or flavor of the week guru would magically give us what we have so desired and sought in vain for so long. We have been so desperate that we were willing to try anything, no matter how preposterous.
Unfortunately your good intentions are meaningless. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do. If you are willing to spend significantly more time and effort than you first imagined, if you are willing to be humbled, challenged, and question your childhood beliefs, your coping skills, your thinking, and the bullshit you so firmly believe to be true – than authentic and lasting change is not only possible, it’s probable.
In the coming year I hope to share with my subscribers my course entitled, “Change your life 52% in one year”. It is about 1% solutions, small but lasting change – one step at a time. That is how change happens, little by little, day by day, month by month. Anything else is probably not real.
Don’t give up. Make small changes and stick with them. Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck. Challenge your cognitive distortions and when you hear about the newest fad that is guaranteed to work – set your crap detector on stun. You’ve had enough disappointment.
You’re worth it.
- 6 Things You Need To Know About Changing Your Life (scott-williams.ca)
- Living My Life To Impress A Five Year Old (scott-williams.ca)
- Depression: How To Feel Like A Loser (scott-williams.ca)
- Beating Anxiety And Depression Is Possible, But It May Be More Work Than You Are Prepared To Do (scott-williams.ca)
13 thoughts on “Why Most Radical Change Is Bogus”
I completely agree that real lasting change requires “an alteration in lifestyle and the development of new coping mechanisms.” I was wondering if you ever released the program “Change your life 52% in one year”?
No, I’m working on a manuscript right now for it as an e-book.
“In order for growth to become permanent you need to fundamentally change the way you think.” I totally agree. Great post Scott.
I believe in the tooth fairy too!
I’m one of those people who has been bombarded by assurances from my estranged spouse that, in spite of nothing for more than a decade, he totally changed overnight, starting from the very moment I walked out the door. He supposedly just needed that wake-up call. Uh-huh. I know firsthand how hard it is to keep a personal commitment to change. The first rule is that it will NEVER last if you’re not doing it for the right reasons. And, even if you are, it’s always way more difficult – and takes way more time – than you realized at the outset. In my case, it was just one series of baby steps after another until, one day, I looked back and realized how far I’d come. But that’s when you also realize that a successful life is a commitment to personal growth every single day of your life. This article was fantastic. Every single thing you said was spot-on. Well done.
Nice one! Change doesn’t just come with fantacizing alone.
I was a nail biter until 2010. We’re talking bite them down so far the nerve endings would hurt and throb all night long. My parents tried to get me to stop throughout my childhood. Nothing worked. But suddenly in my mid-30’s I decided to quit. And, just like that, I did.
Anything is possible if someone wants it bad enough.
I wanted pretty nails and to stop wasting money every 2 weeks for fake ones that were damaging the one’s I had. It took MONTHS and lots of Opi Envy nail polish to repair them and make them strong and grow them out nice. But I did it. I’d consider my lifelong habit of 30+ years and the sudden stopping of doing it, a radical change.
It CAN be done.
I agree that A LOT of people go for unrealistic goals though. New Year Resolutions are a waste of time. I started YEARS ago making New Year Goals, and made them realistic things I could achieve. No crash diets, but rather, goals of learning to eat healthier, budget money better, find ways to save, learn something new, etc.
Unfortunately I can relate to the spouse (not) changing comment. My naivete caused me to stay way longer than I should have. I saw your red flags and yet believed change was possible. So I can see both sides. At the same time, I think things COULD have changed. He just didn’t want to bad enough and didn’t think he HAD to. No real effort was ever really put forth.