Let me be the first to say that making changes in life really sucks. That’s a technical term. There are many reasons why making changes is difficult – you have your routines, you making changes means the people around you also have to adapt and shift, etc… But I believe the biggest reason that making changes is so difficult is that human brains are tricksy and the change you want to make is actually just a thin veneer over the change you NEED to make. Let me explain.
Your life is the way it is because that is the easiest way for it to be right now and the way that “works” even if there’s something about it that clearly isn’t working. When you look at your life there are areas that are easy, areas that are messy and areas that are downright dysfunctional but all of those parts of your life are doing *something* for you. No matter how crappy parts of your life might look, they are giving you something positive (even if you complain about it constantly or feel like you need to change it). If it wasn’t giving you something positive you wouldn’t be doing it that way.
Lifehack – Follow the Resistance
It’s easy to look at the end points that you want to change – I want to lose 10 pounds, get my groove back, have a better relationship with the in-laws, learn to really communicate with the kids, etc… Those are the goals. To get to those goals there are things you have to change and somewhere in there is a change that you’re resisting. Especially when you’ve had the same goal for a long time (like that same 10 pounds has been waiting to come off for five years). Somewhere there is something that you’re resisting doing, resisting looking at, or just not seeing. The most important thing you have to do when you’re making changes is to follow the resistance. This is where the real meat of the matter lies. The problem is that sometimes it can be hard to find the resistance, and as it turns out there is a way to find that resistance and toddlers already know it. It’s to just keep asking “why?”
Just Keep Asking “Why?”
That sounds really simple, but it isn’t. Here’s an example that I have had the opportunity to explore recently. One of my clients has an issue with her weight – we’ll call her Jane Doe. She is a mother of four, has a full time job, and a happy marriage. Her family is financially comfortable but doesn’t have a lot extra. She eats well all day, exercises and has an active job but then falls apart in the evening and gets cravings for salty-crunchy, that are incredibly hard to resist. We had been working together for some time and just kept getting to this same block. She was beating herself up for not being able to get past this, for not having the will power, and for not being able to just make it change. After a few months of futility, we sat down and had a heart-to-heart to follow the resistance. Here’s what happened (slightly paraphrased because the whole conversation gets really annoying before it actually resolves).
Amy: “Why do you binge on the salty-crunchy in the evenings?”
JD: “I can’t stop myself”Amy: “Why?”
JD: “I just can’t – it tastes too good”
Amy: “Why do you need something to taste so good?”
JD: “It makes me happy. It’s instant pleasure”
JD (clearly annoyed now): “It just is – it’s easy and makes me happy”
Amy: “Why do you need something easy that makes you happy?”
JD: “everyone needs pleasure in their lives”
Amy: “Why is your life not giving you pleasure?”
JD (kind of angry with words coming out in a rush): “I work so hard and then come home and have more work. I clean, I cook – my husband helps but between the two of us we’re always running kids here and there, spending money so they can do their stuff, there isn’t really time or money left over for me, so this is what makes me happy.”
Then she cried.
You know you reached the resistance when you cry. Or get angry, or shout and scream, or storm out of the room. THAT is the resistance. THAT is the thing that is lurking underneath that really needs to change. It isn’t the weight, or the binge eating, it’s the lack of time and energy for her own happiness. Is it easy to change? Nope. Is it going to require a big step back to find a solution? Yup. When she figures it out will it make a way bigger impact on her life than the silly 10 pounds would? You bet.
What You Resist Might Just Be What You Need To Change Most
The funny thing about making changes is that it’s all linked up. There is the thing we might want to change (the 10 pounds) and then the change that we really REALLY need to make for our life to work (JDs lack of time for her own happiness). The change we want seems to always hinge on the change we actually need in the big picture – it’s like some wonderful cosmic synergy that happens. I tend to call anything along this vein The Great Mystery. It’s like the universe keeps bumping us up against the things that will help us the most if we can just get to the bottom of them. The really hard part is getting to the bottom of them. So – did Jane Doe just make some time for herself and la-di-da 10 pounds fell off and everyone lived happily ever after? Um… No.
Making Changes: Resistance is Tricky
No – Jane certainly did not make time for herself and those 10 pounds melted away. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:
Amy: “Now we’re getting somewhere! What else could you do that would make you happy?”
JD (genuinely angry now): “You don’t understand. We don’t have time, we don’t have money. The kids have gymnastics, soccer, summer camp and tutoring and it eats all of the money and I have to run them around to these things. There just isn’t anything left over.”Amy: “Why do you have to run them around?”
JD: “Because they have to do those things – they love them and I want them to have every opportunity.”
etc… etc… etc…
There was a lot more back and forth in which Jane got incredibly frustrated with me, got angry, got indignant, called me a bunch of names for being insensitive, and ended up crying again. At the end of the day we were friends again, but there was a lot of messy, dark, ugly ground to cover before we got there. The whole conversation is too cumbersome, but the bottom line was that Jane was beating herself up against a made up idea called “good parent” and to be a “good parent” meant giving up everything that makes you happy so that the kids can have all of the things they’re supposed to have. That one isn’t an easy fix at all. But, by managing to fix it not only Jane’s life would be better but her whole family dynamic is better too.
Jane just had an appointment after about 6 months of silence after the above conversation. I really wasn’t sure if what we did helped or if I’d made her angry enough to go somewhere else. As it turned out it was a great thing – and also still a work in progress. Jane ended up sitting down for a conversation with her husband who, as it turns out, felt exactly the same way but instead of turning to food he turned to alcohol. The two of them tried to shift things around and give each other more breaks and more space, but time management wasn’t really solving the problem. At this point they sat down with the kids to have a conversation. Then the floodgates opened.
The kids were stressed out – they could see that mom wasn’t entirely happy and dad was distant and all of them felt guilty for it in different ways (kids always seem to think they cause any problems around them). Sitting down and talking about it was stressful for the family but got a lot of simmering issues out in the open. It also revealed that what the kids wanted more than gymnastics and summer camp was time with their parents. The kids really missed the sit-down dinners they used to have before everyone started running in twenty different directions. They missed the lazy Saturday morning brunch with waffles and they wanted to go camping again and roast marshmallows on the camp fire. To get those things back, everyone would have to dial back their extracurricular activities.
This wasn’t easy – the kids liked the stuff they were doing, but at the end of the day they liked time with their family more. Did this help Jane? Not at first. The things they wanted to do were all food-intensive (as family activities tend to be). Jane actually gained weight at first because the brunch was all carbs, the sit down dinners were all comfort food and they only managed to go camping once but it was an absolute festival of hot dogs on sticks and popcorn over the campfire and marshmallows galore. As the time went by though and Jane relaxed into a little bit more leisurely schedule, things started to shift. Jane was feeling happier and less rushed and over-scheduled. She felt like she was enjoying her kids more and not just seeing them as to-do items. After this six months, the weight was actually starting to come off.
Best of all, Jane said she was actually enjoying her life in a way that she didn’t realize she was missing. Her slow creep into losing her own joy had been gradual enough as to go unnoticed by her and everyone else. She would never have said at the beginning of that conversation that she wasn’t happy. Her resistance pointed to a problem that she wasn’t seeing or acknowledging and by doing the hard work of actually addressing that problem, she is seeing a huge reward. Jane came back to say thanks – how awesome is that?
If you notice that you are making changes, or trying, and you’re coming to a block somewhere that doesn’t seem to move no matter what you do, maybe it’s time to follow the resistance. Get into it and find the big thing hiding underneath – your life will be better for it.