We want to change ourselves for the better and we know we’ll be healthier and happier for it, so why is it so hard to make positive change stick? Why do we do things that aren’t healthy and avoid things that are? Why do we eat crap food, avoid exercise, drink too much, hang out with toxic people, overwork ourselves, or worry non-stop? Why do we feel sad about our inability to stick to positive habits and tell ourselves we lack determination, we’re lazy, or incapable of change?!
Maybe it’s how we’re wired as humans, or maybe it’s because we live in a world that isn’t exactly conducive to positive change. For example, I think it can be very easy to be unhealthy (physically and mentally) in our world. Sometimes we work long hours and have no time, energy, or mental clarity to exercise, work on our goals, or make healthy food for ourselves at the end of the day. Plus, all the easy, ready-to-eat food is widely accessible, cheaper, and generally not great for our bodies. It’s also easier to watch Netflix for hours than it is to exercise or work on improving our mental health 😉
We might create expectations for ourselves of changes we want to make and when we don’t meet them, we start telling ourselves we’re incapable of changing or we’re different from those people who have made positive changes in their life. However, I think anyone who has gone from just existing to changing their life for the better probably started from that same place of laziness and self-wallowing. What made them able to turn their life around and stick with it? I think being aware of reasons why we have such a hard time making positive change in the first place may be part of the reason. By knowing what holds us back, we’re more likely to expect these obstacles and continue moving forward when we come across them! Below, I’ve outlined what I think are the 12 biggest obstacles to making lasting, positive change.
(1) Not having strong enough motivation
In order to make a new habit stick, you need a really strong motivator that drives you to make the effort every single day. Find something that motivates you so strongly that you can bring it to mind whenever you fail, face temptation, or question why you’re making this change. If you forget the reason why you want to change, it will be all too easy to just give up when it gets too hard.
You have to find what motivates you specifically. What is such a strong motivator that every time you think about it, you get fired up and excited about making your goal happen?! Make it concrete. Write it down, tell it to yourself daily, whatever works for you, just don’t forget it.
In the past, I’ve told myself “well, I’ve failed before so why would this time be any different?” I think sometimes we believe that our past behaviours determine our current or future behaviours. When we doubt our ability to achieve things we’ve failed at before, we’re placing ourselves in a cycle of failure and negative emotions. Being more realistic with ourselves and reminding ourselves that we may need to face many failures before success, can increase our self-confidence.
(3) Being uncomfortable
Making change is going to be uncomfortable. This could be in the form of physical exercise, confronting aspects of our character we want to change, or doing things that scare us. You’re going to face fear, temptation, judgement, laziness, bad days, and self-doubt. By expecting these feelings and embracing them, you’ll be able to push through rather than give up when things feel uncomfortable.
For me, one of the main reasons why I don’t write as much as I’d like to, even though I know it’s good for my mental health, is all of the distractions in my life. These include social media, TV, movies, games, and even sleeping too much. Focus on where your time is going and make a plan for how to dedicate less time to the distractions and more time to the habits that move you forward.
(5) Extreme expectations
We often expect perfection from ourselves, so it’s no wonder we f*** up so much! We might say we’re going to cut out all bad foods, exercise an hour a day, write 3,000 words a day, or not drink for a month. None of these lifestyle choices are bad, but when you go from not working out at all to an hour a day, your life is going to be thrown way off balance! Start small and ease yourself into things. You’ll feel like you’re accomplishing more by actually exercising for 15 minutes 3x per week then trying to work out an hour every day and failing because you expected too much from yourself right off the bat.
(6) Expecting change too soon
Be realistic with your timeline for change. Don’t expect to be anxiety free after meditating for a month. Change comes slower and takes more effort to sustain. Expect to map your progress out over the long term in order to avoid discouragement when you don’t see change quickly.
(7) Lack of social acceptance
Sometimes the change you want to make isn’t parallel to society’s goals. Eating vegan, not drinking alcohol, or not eating sugar can be hard to do when the large majority of people around you are either doing the opposite or don’t understand why you’re doing it at all. They may even judge you negatively for trying to make the change. Find like minded people who are making similar changes and can be your accountability partners.
(8) You don’t plan ahead for failure or temptation
We tend to fall off the horse because there are so many temptations we didn’t plan for in life. By anticipating events or mental states we may experience, we are better equipped to succeed when those moments do arise. Expect that you will have mornings when you’re absolutly not motivated to get up early and go for a walk. You will want to eat junk, sit on social media all day, or do whatever your unhealthy habit is. Expect the temptation and make a plan of action for when it shows up. Expect to fail at your habit and have kind, motivating words ready to tell yourself when you do. Be realistic and forgiving with yourself.
(9) Lack of balance
No junk food is great for your body but if you need some every once and a while for the sake of your mental health, then do it! Have rest days where you lounge around and do nothing, just don’t let these days become your lifestyle. Balance the hard work with the relaxation and you’ll likely appreciate both more.
(10) You don’t acknowledge your feelings
Have you addressed why you want to make positive change in the first place? For example, make sure your desire to lose weight isn’t because of societal pressure or to distract yourself from how you feel on the inside. Making change for others doesn’t provide lasting motivation nor does changing your body always lead to increased self-confidence. Take care of your mental health first. Be real with yourself about what you’re feeling so that you know you’re making changes for the right reasons. Incorporate multiple positive habits that work together, like working on your physical health and finding something that improves your mental health at the same time.
(11) You can’t delay gratification
This is a necessary skill in order to make positive change last. Sometimes, we get in a mood where we don’t want to do something because we want to be comfortable in the moment, or we crave something we feel we must have now. We tend to give in to these temptations. However, a combination of many instances of delayed gratification can add up to a changed life (and longer-term gratification in the end)! Choose your form of gratification.
(12) You look at change as taking away from your life rather than adding to it
Change how you think about change! Make it something you want to do, not something you have to do. For example, consider that when eating healthy, you’re adding food to your life that is benefiting your body rather than taking away unhealthy food you desire. We tend to make change unsustainable and un-enjoyable when we associate it with restriction and rules. Instead, make positive change fun and enjoyable! Don’t be too strict with your regime. Create a positive association in your brain between healthy change and joy.
I hope you find that being aware of these obstacles helps you feel knowledgeable and empowered to make positive change happen in your life! Thank you for reading.