How to Change Yourself When the Idea of Change is Holding You Back

The decision to change yourself is scary.  The idea of changing yourself is comforting.
The decision to change yourself is scary. The idea of changing yourself is comforting.

I bet a lot of you are looking at that title and going….what?!

I’m not trying to be cryptic here, just attempting to shine some light on the human psyche and how I’ve seen wide-eyed people, full of hope and enthusiasm have their dreams slip away because the idea of change, at least for them, was greater than change itself. 

You’re still probably saying…..what?!  Bear with me a little longer here and you’ll see that the ideas behind today’s post transcend fitness and are completely relatable to any set of goals you may have in your life. Recognizing what we’re about to lay out below is the most powerful step you can take in turning raw motivation into something viable to change yourself for good.

Standing at the Front Door to the Rest of Your Life

Think back several years (and for some of you, many more than several!) to when you were in high school.  You were still young, naive, and full of hope.  At this point in time, almost anything was possible.  You were free; able to go any which way you chose.  You could become or change yourself into anything you wanted.  You probably had limited responsibilities and were standing at the front door to the rest of your life.

As time wears on, slowly but surely (and whether we realize it or not) our options diminish.  We assume more responsibilities, the consequences of our decisions begin to pile up, and generally, our point of view slowly becomes more similar to that of the mainstream.  Your ability to change yourself becomes more limited.  Over time, our “dreams” slowly cement themselves as dreams, and nothing more. 

Some dreams and/or goals are lost forever.  I can say with absolute certainty, I will never play college football (this is more of an example than an actual dream).  I’ve completed college, used up my NCAA eligibility, and will not be getting any more.  This dream is gone and there’s nothing I can do about it.  On the other hand, it has always been a dream of mine (actual)  to complete an Ironman triathlon.  This dream is still in the realm of possibilities.  It’ll take a hell of a lot of hard work and determination, but it is a dream that is still achievable. 

For most people, deciphering between the physically achievable and the physically impossible to achieve isn’t hard.  Yes, maybe it was your lifelong goal to become a FBI agent…until you realize the past 10 years of your life spent in a cloud of pot might not look so good on the polygraph.  For the majority of us, we learn to accept what we cannot achieve, and move on. 

You Need to Feel Like You Can Still Change Yourself

As humans, we crave opportunity.  No one likes to be boxed into a decision…especially if it’s a decision you didn’t make.  We are keenly aware of goals and opportunities that ARE still under out control.  We focus on these, because THESE are the things we can do something about.  Deliver pizzas for a living but want to go back to college to study business?  You have the power to change yourself and make this happen.  Gained 30 pounds after your last baby but want to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight?  This is achievable.  No matter what our age, we look for and relish these potential opportunities.  It gives us power.  It gives us hope.  It makes us feel that we still have some semblance of control over our lives. This feeling is useful.  Many people are able to harness this raw emotion of hope and motivation and turn it into action.  This action is how you bridge those obstacles standing in your way and change yourself for the better.

But, as I’ve noticed amongst friends, family, and clientele over the years….for many people, the idea of change is greater than change itself.  I’ll give you an example..

I had a good friend I knew from college who, like many of us, took a job immediately after graduating that he wasn’t exactly in love with.  He sat in his cube, punching buttons, not doing what he thought he was meant to be doing.  We talked regularly and he’d often tell me about his grand plans.  At one point he was going to go back to school to get his MBA.  Next, he was planning to go to culinary school and realize his true passion of cooking.  Later, he got the idea of law school into his head.  Fast-foward 6 years…he’s still sitting in that cube, hating his job, living in the glow of the possibility of changing his circumstances.

Sometimes the idea that you still have the ability to change yourself or your circumstances. is enough to provide the mental satisfaction to continue carrying on.  It gives hope; it makes you feel as though all is not lost.  We feel we can still control our own destiny.  It’s a good feeling.  Unfortunately, that hope sometimes leads to inaction.  That inaction is almost always the result of the single most damaging thing you can tell yourself; “I still have time”. 

Why “I Still Have Time” is The Worst Thing You Can Say If You Want to Change Yourself

Sure, my buddy still has time to improve his circumstances.  He’s only 27, he’s a smart guy, and he’s got one of those magnetically charismatic personalities people enjoy being around.  The problem is, his attachment to the idea that he still has time to change himself, is preventing him from changing. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a procrastinator.  I work hard everyday to overcome this tendency, but it’s still something that pops up every now and then.  I don’t think I’m unique. I think a lot of people are willing to put off today what they feel they can do tomorrow.  This feeling is at the very core of why so many people fail to ever accomplish what they set out to do. 

So I’ve got 25 pounds to lose?  No big deal, I’ve lost more before.  I can easily drop 50 pounds, so many people have done that.  No big deal.  Sixty pounds?  So what?  The people on The Biggest Loser lose sooo much more.  Okay, 70 pounds is gonna be tough, but it’s still doable, I used to be an athlete after all.  Alright, I don’t know how I got 100 pounds overweight, but I’m still young enough to do this.  I can do this.

And then boom…..

The doctor says I’m a diabetic.  My knees are bad.  My chest hurts when I run.  My back is worse than ever.  This weight just isn’t dropping like it used to.  I wish I had done something sooner. 

Changing Yourself Is Hard

Changing yourself is hard.  Thinking about changing yourself is not.  The idea that you have the power to drop X number of pounds gives you hope.  Dropping X number of pounds is hard.  This type of change requires hard work.  In the romanticized version in your head, you simply focus on the fact you have the power to change.  You may not be thinking about all of the steps required to achieve that goal.  Perhaps you make a half-hearted effort at dropping those pounds, but upon realizing how hard it is, you recoil back and tell yourself “I can do it later.  I still have time”.  You go back to basking in the good feelings of knowing you can drop those pounds whenever you want…until you actually CAN’T because you’re too sick, old, fill in the blank.

Now, I’m no sports psychologist, so take what I’m saying as my personal point of view, and nothing more… 

The good feelings that are associated with knowing you have the ability to change your job, get fit, meet someone new, etc. are, again in my opinion, no different from a drug.  They produce good feelings in your brain, relieve your anxieties, and over time, you grow attached to this feeling.  Trying to actually change yourself is uncomfortable.  What if you fail?  What if you realize you really CAN’T go back to law school because you simply aren’t smart enough?  That opportunity is now gone.  The good feelings that were derived from this possibility have now dried up.  You might feel hopeless, lost, out of control of your own life.  These feelings are all scary, and are the reason so many people would rather hold on to the hope that they can change, rather than actually try to change themselves. 

What Can You Do About It?

This is a hard question to answer.  Truthfully, I don’t have an exact answer for you.  I believe it’s all about getting off that “drug” and facing your fear.  Sure, you might not be as smart or as determined as you think you are.  But at the end of the day…at least you’ll know.  Think about it…you’re living in the world of make-believe when you envision all of these pie-in-the-sky possibilities.  They make you feel good, but that’s all they do.  They don’t help your current circumstances or bring about actual change in your life.  In effect, these romanticized possibilities are preventing you from changing yourself.

You are setting yourself up for a world of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” many years down the road when you refuse to give up your attachment to these feelings.  Honestly, for me, it’s just a matter of saying, screw it, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to take the necessary steps to try to achieve this goal.  If I fail, I fail.  Sure, that opportunity is now gone, and it’s one less thing in my life I won’t do.  But at least I’ll know. 

I truly believe regret is one of the worst human emotions we can encounter.  You don’t want to look back at your life when you’re old and gray and be faced with regret after regret.  Do something to meet those goals, even if you fail, so you aren’t spending your later years regretting not knowing what might have been. 

The great thing about opportunity is that it continues to present itself in various forms throughout our lives.  While our dreams and goals may evaporate or change, new ones will continue to form.  Just because you realize you may never reach some of your goals, doesn’t mean your life is out of your hands.  You’ll encounter numerous other opportunities to change yourself and realize and new dreams as you grow older.  The worst thing you can do is live in the fantasy world you’ve created in your head.  Get out there and try to achieve.  If you fail, so be it.  If you succeed, more power to you.  But either way, you’ll avoid regret down the road, and might just change your life in the process.

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