My colleague and good friend Chris Johnson tells us that if we want to change, we have to make sure our “Why” – our reason to change – is bigger than our “But” – our resistance to change. This speaks to a common and difficult problem. We have all been motivated to learn a new behavior and become healthier, more successful, even happier. It may have been a new insight, a new approach that seems promising, or we learned about a new way of being that we recognized would be very helpful to us. When we first start, we are often very motivated, have the best intentions, and even change our behavior.
Usually for the first week or two, things are going really pretty well, and we experience some of the benefits of our new learning. But it doesn’t take too long, usually in about 3-4 weeks, our old habits reassert themselves. We find our enthusiasm beginning to lag and we slowly slip back into our old patterns. We struggle for awhile, and often add to the problem by becoming disappointed in ourselves as our old habits reassert themselves and all our good intentions melt away along with our new patterns.
It’s not that we don’t recognize how beneficial the new behaviors are. We know what we should do and we may even know why we should do it. After all, it seemed so easy when we first learned the new behavior. But now, we simply don’t seem to have the motivation or strength to carry us through to a new level of functioning. At this point, we often become self-critical, and perhaps even cynical about our ability to change. Of course, this only makes the situation worse, and our “Why” becomes barely able to surface in our mind.
Patience with yourself and your mind/body complex is a necessary and important part of growth.
The problem isn’t that we lack strength, but rather we have run smack into the strength of our old habits. It’s relatively easy to adapt a new behavior when we first learn it because the mind is more fully engaged in new events. But sustaining that engagement is not an easy thing to do. The patterns that we have established over the years have a momentum in the mind and body that is often difficult to shift.
Some Simple Techniques
Difficult, but not impossible. There are a few things that can really make a significant difference in whether or not we are successful in changing patterns in the mind and body. First, don’t let yourself become discouraged. The habits we want to change are often patterns that have been around for a long time, so there will be a natural resistance to change. This so-called resistance is not all bad as it allows us to maintain internal integrity within the mind/body complex. Without this resistance to change, we couldn’t establish a healthy and stable personality. Nor is it true that you are weak or lack character strength because it is difficult to change. This unnecessary self-criticism is counter-productive to any growth or change. In fact, the more judgmental you become about the process, the more you reinforce the old patterns of behavior, and the more difficult it is to make the changes you want.
Fear is a powerful motivating factor that may produce a desired end, but will exact a tremendous price on our health and well-being.
Patience with yourself and your mind/body complex is a necessary and important part of growth. The habits you want to change now have been around for a long time, and it will take some time to learn new ones. Being hard on yourself or fighting with these old habits of thought and behavior simply reinforce them because you are paying attention to them. Focus on what you want to have happen, and simply recognize when you are successful and when you aren’t. There is real value in keeping track of when you actually practice a new behavior and when you don’t. It allows you to connect cause/effect relationships. A great tool for this is the Hoshin Passport from Matthew Cross of Leadership Alliance. The passport locks in your priorities and provides a way to track your progress on a daily basis.
Secondly, setting up times to practice the new behavior is essential. The key is to establish the new behavior as a habit, and build its strength through repetition. Any skill is nothing more than a habit that has been practiced until it becomes automatic. Pairing your new behavior with an already established habit pattern is an effective way to remember to practice the new behavior. For example, whenever I shift from one focused activity to another, I use the opportunity to practice breath awareness. This allows me to clear my mind and begin the new activity with clarity. At the same time, the change of focus provides me the opportunity to practice breath awareness. After a while, it was easy for me to use breath awareness in any situation because of that initial practice.
Another helpful and easy to use technique is to have someone – a colleague, friend or spouse – act as a coach to remind you to practice. Having to check in with someone on a regular basis often serves as a strong motivation to practice.
Inspiration: The Secret to Success
There are any number of techniques that we can employ to help us establish new behaviors. But they all pale if we are not inspired to change, to grow into healthier, more effective and happier human beings. Motivation comes in many ways, but usually it’s tied to some material or physical gain, such as increased financial well-being, better health, or even the need to be the best. Fear is a powerful motivating factor that may produce a desired end, but will exact a tremendous price on our health and well-being. But even the best of these are limited and eventually become depleted in strength. There is, however, another source of motivation that far surpasses even the most powerful, and that is the power of inspiration.
We are often inspired by nature – a beautiful sunset, an unforgettable mountain view, maybe even watching a storm roll across the plains.
When we are inspired on a daily basis, change and growth become a very natural and nearly effortless process. The very nature of inspiration is to open avenues of strength in any and every human being. Inspiration connects us with the source of our being, the subtle spiritual dimension, and opens the pathway to our inner strength. It is an aspect of our spiritual self that we seldom use with conscious intent.
Inspiration occurs when we are touched on a spiritual level. It is not a matter of belief, although certainly belief may be an avenue for inspiration. We are inspired by what touches us at a deep level, and at that moment, our thoughts and emotions are in synchrony. We are effortlessly lifted into new awareness and confidence, ready to move forward with whatever task we have before us.
And this is the power of inspiration – it leaves us with the desire to be a better human being.
We may be inspired by another person – a friend, a speaker, even a stranger – who opens us to a new insight or reminds us of a treasured moment. We may be inspired by something we read – some poetry, a passage in a book, a spiritual reading. We are often inspired by nature – a beautiful sunset, an unforgettable mountain view, maybe even watching a storm roll across the plains. Often, inspiration comes unannounced, a gentle surprise that lightens our day. But we can also find our inspiration on a daily basis by doing those things which inspire us. For myself, reading the mystical poets, for instance, Hafiz, T.S. Eliot, Rumi and Kabir, always leaves me inspired to be a more fully human.
And this is the power of inspiration – it leaves us with the desire to be a better human being. It isn’t about material gain, or becoming more powerful or more famous. It is simply a push to a greater humanity – more loving, compassionate, and understanding. It is this enhanced humanity that lifts us out of our normal pattern and gives us the strength and motivation to move forward with our goals and plans. Inspiration is the polar opposite of being discouraged and impatient with oneself. It is always a positive state. No one is inspired by negativity.
So the only real task is to find our way to inspiration every day. What is it that you do that lifts your heart and clears your mind of the day-to-day cobwebs of worry, frustration, and striving? Is it something that you do every day, and if not, why not? Inspiration is a gift to each and every one of us, a gift without a cost. It would be a waste not to use such a precious gift.
“I know a cure for sadness: Let your hands touch something that makes your eyes smile.” – Mirabae