3 Big Reasons You Never Change


It’s what strangers ask for and all of us try once in a while.

But while it’s pretty easy to offer up a few coins, changing yourself is often a whole heap of trouble.

Let’s face it, change is hard.

You might want to stop feeling so damn shy in large groups. Maybe you want to make a change in your work so you can feel good about Monday mornings. Perhaps you want to change the way you think about health or your body. You may feel like you have to change your relationship to money, or maybe you’re tired of sitting on your gifts or holding back from your desires.

Change starts by compassionately noticing that something isn’t quite right, and even though you might start the process of changing something, which is fantastic (round of applause), you soon find that one of three things happens:

  1. You get diverted or sidetracked by something else, or just by “life”.
  2. You hit a block or a wall, and things fizzle out.
  3. You rationalise that this isn’t the right time to change, or find some other “reason” to back out.

Look, I’m not here to judge, blame or point fingers. We all do this. It’s how we’re wired.

So here are 3 reasons that change never seems to stick, and a couple of thoughts about how to do things differently.

1. You get attached to your identity

Your identity is really just a set of beliefs about who you are. You’re the type of person who always sees the silver lining. You’re the kind of person who gets stressed out too easily. Or you’re the kind of person who good things don’t happen to.

You’re all kinds of different things, and all of the beliefs you hold about yourself get smooshed up together to form an identity.

Then you get attached to it. You start to believe that your identity is who you are. When in fact, it’s just a collection of thoughts, beliefs and stories.

Your identity may echo some important parts of who you really are, way down deep. But it will also include some batshit crazy stuff.

Like when you end up thinking you must be a bad person for wanting to change. Or that you’re someone who doesn’t deserve to change in the ways you want. Or that you’ll become someone you’re not as a result of change, and that would be horrible.

So when faced with change, your job isn’t to ask yourself “does this fit with who I am?“, because that will leverage those old beliefs and assumptions about yourself that may well be limiting the hell out of your life.

Instead, ask, when I think about changing this, what kind of person do I want to be?

See the difference? One gets you stuck in thoughts about who you’ve been. The other opens up possibilities based on the kind of experience that really matters to you.

There’s safety and warmth in wrapping yourself up in your identity, and it feels damn exposing to shed that. But when it comes to change—real, meaningful change—you can’t do it without letting go of who you’ve been and finding the confidence to explore what’s next.

2. You slip into old patterns

The things you do are often as comfortable as an old pair of slippers and as familiar as an old carpet.

Driving a car or brushing your teeth. The way you behave with a friend versus how you behave with a sibling or a parent. The way you approach a personal project you want to get started versus how you approach getting something going at work. The way you deal with conflict versus the way you deal with praise.

These things are all patterns of behaviour—reactions to circumstances—that your brain triggers in order to get you through safe and sound.

When it comes to change, your brain will lean on the old patterns it knows well, and it’ll even reward you with fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good chemicals when you use those patterns.

This automatic triggering of behaviour is functionality that comes right out of the box, and it’s incumbent on you to be aware of whether that behaviour is serving you well, or if it isn’t.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is, you don’t have to unravel or even understand the old patterns of behaviour that might not fit or serve you now. You just need to entertain the notion that there might be a better way. A way that honours what matters most to you. A way that opens up possibilities rather than closing them down. A way that knows how much you love certainty and still says, “Fuck it, let’s try.”

Old patterns don’t need to be an impediment to change, just as long as you’re confident enough to call them out for what they are.


3. You don’t consider the environment

I love the panda’s and penguins. I think trees are pretty cool. And I freakin’ love breathing fresh air.

I’m all over this environment thing like a climate-change-denier over a GOP rally.

But the environment isn’t just about green issues, it can also stop you dead in your tracks before you’ve even finished tying your running shoes.

Your environment is made from 9 elements—relationships, work, physical, body, nature, spiritual, financial, network and identity. It includes everything around you in your life. All the stuff you encounter and all the things you move through.

As a human being you have a bi-directional relationship with your environment. You can impact it just as much as it impacts you.

And here lies the rub.

You can only grow and change in an environment that’s congruent with that change.

You might have a friend who doesn’t want you to change. Or a partner who doesn’t give you the support you need. Maybe you have a haemorrhaging bank balance. Or a body that’s healthy like a toxic pond. Or perhaps you’re in a job that doesn’t give you room to grow or have a social life that’s as enriching as an Iranian plutonium plant.

Any one piece of your environment can block change like a lack of sunlight blocks growth or drought stops a flower from blooming.

The point isn’t to try to control everything in your life (however tempting it might be), it’s to spot what’s in your environment that takes away from your ability to enact meaningful change and put a strategy in place to accept, minimise, transform or eliminate it.

If you don’t spot it first, something in your environment will bite you on your tush like a puppy smelling brisket in your knickers.

So see what stymies, throttles or denies in your environment. Then tap into the vein of confidence that gives you the power to make a choice, and have that choice be one that helps shape an environment that’s congruent with the change you want to make.

Change is hard. Or at least, it can be.

It can also be sweet and beautiful and marvellous and strange and wonderful and necessary.

What kind of change would you like to make?

  • “a social life that’s as enriching as an Iranian plutonium plant” is what really got me in this one. Here’s the thing, though: When I wasn’t satisfied with my high octane but empty career, I made the über-ballsy move of walking away from it and starting over from scratch. When I wanted to be fitter, I started training 5 days a week (phew!). I conquered my hatred of running by training for a half-marathon (2:22:34!). When I wanted to eat healthier, I read and researched until I found what I believe to be the optimal diet for me (paleo). But when it comes to social life…what does one do? I can’t just ‘decide’ to go out and make new friends. It’s not that easy (especially as we get older, and especially working from home). I do try, but I don’t seem to be very successful at it. I miss my old friends, but they’ve all gotten married and had families and otherwise moved on. Would love some insight on how to tackle this frustrating aspect of change.

    • Congrats on the half-marathon Cara!

      I want to check-in on your statement that “I can’t just decide to go out and make new friends”. Sure, you can’t control other people and yes, things might feel more difficult as we get older, but doesn’t this have to start with the decision to go out there and meet new people? So maybe it’s about opening the way for that to happen, and looking at the thoughts that make it a struggle.

    • Cara, I’m in awe of your ability to just run when you hated it (I hate it..) but you also can, and should ‘just decide’ to make friends. You can narrow the odds significantly by finding people like you. Try a site like meetup, or join asw and try out their events, or find something you enjoy like eg. wine and do a wine tasting course. Once you have a shared interest to talk about you’re halfway there to some new friends. I also had the high octane career which absorbs most of your time and leaves very little energy for social life but once you get going it’s a very virtuous circle.

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