If you have ever made a New Year Resolution only to see your resolve evaporate like the morning fog even before February has begun, you are not alone!
Change is hard and changing the way we do things, based on a dwindling supply of willpower, is extremely hard! Knowing intellectually that change is necessary in order for us to grow makes no difference at all when it actually comes to dealing with the inbuilt resistance that we all have to doing things differently.
So, what is it that is really going on here?
We imagine that change is linear, that we decide we are going to do something (let’s say we decide we are going to get more exercise) and that all we have to do is just force ourselves to go to the gym and get on with it, and keep on going to the gym because the more we do it (even if we have to force ourselves really hard) the easier it will become until, eventually, it is a habit. Ta-Da! Change complete.
But the reality is very different!
What actually happens is that progress is never linear. We actually effect sustained change by spiraling through the change cycle, moving up a notch on each circuit, a bit like climbing a spiral staircase. This means that the whole process of relapsing, or resisting change is perfectly normal. More than that, it is an integrally important part of the change process, because it is inviting us to dig deeper. Each time we relapse, we have an opportunity to learn more about our drivers, where our resistance lies and what’s really at the root of our blockages.
But instead of welcoming these relapses as an opportunity to engage our beginner’s mind and get curious about what is really going on, we resist them and see them a signs of failure. Our internal narrative kicks in and we start saying things to ourselves like “I’m useless, I’m never going to be able to [fill in the blank]”, or “surprise, surprise look at me, I’ve failed again”.
So next time you set yourself a resolution, bring a little self-compassion to the table. Welcome your relapse or resistance as a genuine sign of growth and development. Take the opportunity to honour the natural spiraling process of expansion and recognise that, although the relapse may seem familiar, is there a chance that you are experiencing it slightly differently this time around? Have you in fact moved up a level without realising it?
Effecting real change is not about will-power. It’s not about forging ahead come what may and forcing yourself down a chosen path. Real change is actually about letting go of expectations, being deeply curious about what is coming up for you at each stage of the cycle and allowing, not forcing, the learnings and shifts to happen. And they will.
So. this year, if you make a resolution, let it be this: resolve to trust yourself and recognise that real change happens at the exact point when you feel nothing is happening at all.
Fran McElwaine is a Functional Health and Lifestyle Coach. Find out more about she can support you bring about real change in your life by visiting her website franmac.co.uk .