The Change Paradox: Why Making Change Stick is so Tough

When it comes to making a change in our lives, there are only 2 obstacles we all need to overcome: getting started and keep going. No matter if you’re nearing your 50th birthday and want to start getting your health back or if you’re the CEO of an INC 500 company trying to implement a new process, change is as simple as knowing how to start and keeping yourself moving forward.

However, as simple as this may sound, we all know that change isn’t quite that easy. As a matter of fact, given that you’ve probably quit a change or 2 in your life, making change stick, no matter how small it is, is one of the more difficult things you will do in your life.

But why is it that change is so hard? Is it because, deep down inside, we secretly don’t want change to happen? Unlikely.

Is it because we’re self-sabotagers at heart? Probably not.

There are a number of reasons why change is tough. And while we can’t go in depth on all of them today, what we can do is, as Fraulein Maria would say, start from the very beginning, because it’s a very good place to start.

Fairytale Change: How We HOPE Change Happens

The Great Master Yoda once said “The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.” And while you may not be able to directly appreciate the terribleness of the dark side of the force, you most certainly understand the dark side of how it feels to begin to make a change.

For instance, when we start down the path to change, we believe that we can see into the future, knowing that things are going to be smooth and steady as we pursue our goal. As an example, think of the last time you started an exercise program. I’m sure when you started, you envisioned the path in a very linear way:

  1. Join the gym
  2. Show up for your workouts every day
  3. Lose weight

This is what I like to call fairytale change. Think of fairytale change as the dark side that is clouding your judgement. You HOPE that change will happen in linear way.

However, as we’ve all experienced as one point or another, change is much less predictable than we imagine. Although we likely know better subconsciously, our excited minds want us to believe that change will go as planned, with no obstacles to overcome and no bumps and bruises along the way.

The Trough of Despair: How Change REALLY Looks

One reason why we may not want to view change for what it is, is because of the emotions that we have as we go through change. Most notably, the big drop in motivation that we all get after hitting the proverbial wall.

Yes, change is not linear. Change is undulating. However, even though getting to the OUTCOME of change is not predictable, per se, the EMOTIONS that we’ll have as we go through change are some what predictable. Psychologists call this pattern the Emotional Cycle of Change, or ECOC.

Basically, you can think of the ECOC as a rollercoaster. If you can visualize the hilliest (is that a real word?) rollercoaster you’ve ever ridden, then you know what the ECOC feels like. Each peak and valley of the ECOC is a different stage of emotion that we go through as we incorporate change into our lives. To help you understand better, let’s take a look at those stages and what they mean for you as you pursue your goals:

Stage #1: Uninformed Optimism

We all know the first stage of change all too well. It consists of the gitty feeling you have when you’re starting something new. It’s that feeling that you’re charged up and ready to take on the world. However, in your haste to get started, you don’t take time to THINK about what obstacles might lie ahead, hence the UNIFORMED part of this stage.

Stage #2: Informed Pessimism

Now that you’re about 6 weeks into your journey (this is the time frame that most people give up on change) you come to the realize that…well…this ain’t gonna be easy. You start to ask yourself if you’ve made the right choice or if it’s worth staying the course or if you should just quit all together. I like to call this stage the Trough of Despair. Although your rational self knows that you’ll hit the Trough eventually, you’re still thrown through a loop once you hit the bottom.

Stage #3: Hopeful Realism

If you’re one of the lucky few who have decided to push through the Trough of Despair, you’ll end up in the realm of Hopeful Realism. You can think of this stage as the curve right before you start your upward trend in emotional feelings again. In hopeful realism, you’ve come to except that you’re going to run into obstacles and that you have the ability to overcome them as they show up.

Stage #4: Informed Optimism

This is the first stage in which you’ve actually dug yourself out of the Trough of Despair. By turning the corner of Hopeful Realism and pushing yourself past obstacles, you’re starting to believe in yourself more. You’re regularly pushing through barriers and overcoming plateaus, making small steps toward your goal.

Stage #5: RESULTS!

Finally, after going through this rollercoaster ride of emotions, you’ve come out on the other side, slightly beaten and partly bruised, but you’ve achieved what you were after in the beginning. Yes, you’ve reached your goal, as hard as that is to believe. Congratulations! Now it’s time to do it all over again.

As you can imagine, most people don’t make it through this full cycle of change too often. This is why there are so many broken promises and shattered dreams of wanting to be in great shape or becoming financially secure or traveling around the world. Take, for instance, the stats on New Year’s Resolutions. About 60% of people set resolutions each year, vast majority of which, approximately 80% or so, have to do with health and fitness. Of the people who set resolutions, only 20% will make it past February 1st!

Let me repeat that differently. A full 80% of people will QUIT their New Year’s Resolution in just 5 short weeks. Another 11% will quit within the year, leaving only 9% who will actually have stuck with it for the full 12 months.

Those numbers are staggering. And you can decide to blame whoever or whatever you want. Sure, we’ve been taught that to want instant gratification from anything and everything. Yes, we’ve been promised a 6-pack of abs in 2 short weeks. However, it’s up to YOU to take responsibility and hold yourself accountable to your actions.

You can make change happen in your life if you choose to do so. As the saying goes (I think I’ve beaten this saying to death over the last 12 months), change is SIMPLE: get started then keep going. However, as we’ve pointed out here, change is not EASY. It’s up for you to decide if you’re going to settle for the status quo or push to the best version of yourself possible.

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Jerry F. Scarlato

Entrepreneur, Fitness Coach, Performance Specialist, Speaker, Author, cook, endless learner. Check more out: www.jerryscarlato.com