We all know people who always go to the same restaurants and order the same menu item. Who return like migrating birds to the same vacation spot. Who would freak out if the same dishes weren’t on the holiday table year after year. Who stay stuck in dead end jobs or relationships. Maybe you are one of them. Why is change so hard for us?
If it’s Monday it must be meatloaf
We thrive on routine. Our lives are filled with choices so creating a routine means one less choice we have to make. When life is predictable we get to stay in our comfort zones.
Paralysis by analysis syndrome
We don’t know what to do so we do nothing. Our comfort zones are not so comfy any more but they are not uncomfortable enough to risk stepping out of them. Change is the result of a cost/benefit analysis. We change when the costs of our current situation gets to be too high.
Rose colored glasses
We gloss over what’s not so hot in our current situation out of fear of the unknown. We say things like this:
- Maybe my husband will learn to control his temper.
- Maybe my wife will stop lying to me.
- Maybe my job will get better.
This is a fantasy. Nothing will change unless you do something different.
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Yes but. . .
As a therapist, I recognize these are words of fear and resistance. We resist change because we’re afraid things might get worse. ”What if what I’m contemplating is a horrible mistake? What will people think?” Our fear of failure or of making a mistake or looking foolish keeps us stuck. And the reality is that sometimes the changes we make don’t work out. And (shudder) we have to make another one.
Rose colored glasses
As we age our familiar world becomes unfamiliar as things around us change. We start to reminisce about the time when life was “simpler” and therefore “better.” Sometimes our look back is through rose colored glasses rather than anything based in reality.
What’s the use?
Sometimes we don’t put forth the effort to change things because we’ve been stuck so long we feel our situation is hopeless. Depression sets in and we simply give up. It takes an act of blind faith—and a great deal of psychological energy—to try something different when you’re convinced it won’t work
Change is hard because it’s risky. Our self esteem is on the line.
So how do we get past the fear? Make a D.A.T.E. with your inner analyst.
D: Define the problem.
Make all the abstract fears floating around in your head concrete and specific by writing them down. Write as many pages as you want. Then distill that down to no more than 3 sentences until you can nod your head and say, “Yes. This is the problem.”
List every possible action you could take to solve the problem you’ve just clearly defined. Two rules: 1. Each action must be possible and in your control. (Don’t list things like “Win the lottery” or “make my wife stop criticizing me.”) 2. Don’t censor yourself by saying, “Yeah, I could do that but I never would.” If it’s possible and in your control write it down. Number 1 on your list should be “Keep doing what I’m doing.” Then if you don’t do anything different you’ll realize you’re staying where you are by choice.
Choose one (or more) alternatives to try. Decide how long you’re going to give that course of action to see if it works for you then take a deep breath and make the plunge.
How well did the action you decided to take work for you? Problem solved? Great! Didn’t work out as you hoped? Cross it off the list and choose another. Repeat until the problem is history.
One last tip from personal experience: When I’m floundering around outside my comfort zone, I remind myself that somewhere in the future this new unfamiliar territory will become routine, too. Then it will be time for a change!