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"Be the change that you wish to use in the world"


Motivation is Not Enough to Change!
Why Do We Resist Healthy Habits

Emotional resistance is the force that drives you to keep your unhealthy habits firmly in place. This force is often hidden and goes undetected, for example:

  • Avoidance of feelings (e.g., drink alcohol to reduce social anxiety)
  • Unconscious emotions (e.g., overeat in self-destructive ways to suppress anger, to avoid interpersonal conflicts and to comfort oneself)

You can be motivated to change and emotionally resist it at the same time, without being fully aware of the full impact of this statement; "I think that I should change but I really don't feel like it". If you do not understand and lower your resistance, you'll stand still, even though you are trying to move forward.

On the other hand, when your resistance overwhelms your motivation, you will not even think about change and go backwards, even though you know that you should be moving forwards. So what causes resistance to change?

Change can be threatening, involve risks and creates emotional dis-ease.

Resistance is expected and normal even when change is in your best interests. Your resistance protects and keeps you in your comfort zone rather than risk change (the unknown). Remember a time when someone told you to change when you did not want to. How did you respond outwardly? And inwardly?

How does it feel when someone threatens your comfort zone, even when the advice was the right thing to do? Did you resist or embrace change when others pressured you to change? Did it bring out the rebellious teenager within you? If not, have you seen the rebellious teenager come out in any of your family, friends or colleagues?

The theory of reactance helps to understand the inner, rebellious teenager. This theory emphasizes that individuals value the freedom to choose, without control, coercion, force or threats to their autonomy. Any perceived loss of that freedom can provoke you or your loved ones to protect or restore that freedom, even if it is in your best interest to change.

The real challenge is whether you can recognize and understand your resistance and explore how you view your comfort zone versus the risk of change.

As a general principle, it is essential to understand and lower your emotional resistance to change before trying to motivate yourself to change.

What happens when someone confronts you about changing, when you are motivated to stay the same (or resist change)? Here is an example.

Mrs. A confronts her husband about his alcohol problem. He rejects the idea that he has a drinking problem and claims he drinks for social and relaxation reasons. She disagrees and again confronts him more persistently. She tries to persuade him that he has an alcohol problem. He again dismisses his wife's concerns that he drinks too much. He rationalizes his behavior by stating that all his friends drink too.

Mr. and Mrs. A are locked in a circular dance of confrontation-resistance-confrontation-resistance, with both partners unable to change their step. She views his alcohol use as a problem, and he views it as a solution. She becomes more frustrated and blames her husband. Mr. A gets angry outwardly and rejects the suggestion that he needs to see someone. Inwardly, she feels scared and rejected.

Mr. A. highlights a human tendency to enhance the emotional benefits of a behavior (e.g., drinking to relieve work stress) and to downplay the risks and harms of that behavior (e.g., alcohol-related problems). Conversely, Mrs. A dismisses her husband's emotional benefits of alcohol (e.g. drinking to relax) and is alarmed with the downside of his drinking habit (e.g. alcohol's negative impact on the family).

What would you do if you were stuck with your partner, like Mr. and Mrs. A? Yes, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and they view the same situation differently.

We can use our differences to make a difference (Gregory Bateson). To learn about how to make a difference in the world, Mohandas Gandhi emphasized beginning with yourself.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

Instead of focusing on her husband, Mrs. A decided to educate herself and learn about her motivation to smoke and to quit. She told her husband that she wanted to quit smoking and have a smoke-free home for their children. She learned more about her own resistance and motivation to change, in ways that allowed her to understand better her husband's viewpoint. This enabled her to understand why her efforts to address her husband's drinking problem were so ineffective. She stopped nagging and confronting her husband.

Recognizing, understanding and lowering your resistance are essential before trying to motivate yourself to put a plan into action. Otherwise, you will experience a tug of war between the good intentions in your head (I think that I should change) and the feelings in your heart (but I don't feel like it).

Why beat yourself up, wasting precious time and energy? Why make it hard on yourself? Learn how your head and heart can work together on change, and not against one another. Discover your path of least resistance to change.


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