Last year, I started writing a book on why it’s so difficult for people to change. Some find it easy, but most of the ones I’ve known struggle with the same issues over and over. I certainly do. Even when I’ve found something that changes my life so dramatically for the better, it seems difficult to let go of my old ways.
A large part is certainly overcoming the inertia of our habits, but that’s more of an issue when we try to change. More importantly, it’s an issue that can be overcome by replacing bad habits with better ones.As for getting started on the change, however, I believe there are three reasons people change:
1. They are excited about the results of the change. If I could snap my fingers and be a world-class computer programmer, I would, but I’m not excited enough about the perceived results of my efforts to put the time in. Part of it is because I don’t want to be a programmer badly enough to put in the effort to change, and another part is because I don’t believe I will become world-class at it. If I believed that, I might be excited enough about those results to continue learning, but I’m not excited enough about the ones I expect to get. When I found out what Excel could do, I got excited about the potential results, and so I became very proficient.
Note that I didn’t say they want the changes, or even need the changes. People are going to do what they want to do even above what is good for them. Otherwise, people wouldn’t start smoking, they would exercise, and promiscuity would be rare because of the potential for diseases. It’s no different with change. It doesn’t matter whether you need to do it; if you don’t want to, you won’t. If you want to change, but want to remain the same more (even subconsciously) or want to avoid the process of change more, you won’t change.
2. They fear not changing more than they fear changing or more than they wish to avoid the process of change. People sometimes change particularly damaging habits because they see what happens to others with those habits, particularly those they love. I have a friend in Virginia who lived a rather wild lifestyle in high school. Her parents made few to no attempts to curb her activities, but when her older sister was in a near-fatal car accident, my friend took a long look at her life and where it was headed, particularly at what would happen to her if she died. She became a Christian and has steadily been growing closer to God since. It wasn’t because she was looking to give up sex, drinking, and partying, but because she feared Hell more than she feared losing these things.
3. They change because of love. One of the tactics people use to get loved ones to join groups like AA is an intervention, when the person’s family and closest friends come together to show that person in a unified way how much they’re hurt by the person’s actions. It can be a very effective tactic because nobody wants to hurt those they love. Others go on diets and start exercising or stop smoking because they want to be around for their children and grandchildren. The process in this case may be the least fun because often, the habits that are changed are addicting or life-long, rather than smaller things like taking a few college computer courses, but people can be convinced to change their lifestyles completely for those they love deeply enough.
This is not necessarily a complete list. I’m very open to feedback of other broad reasons why people change (i.e., specific reasons, such as stopping drinking to keep a job fall in some combination of the second and third core reasons). Thanks for any feedback!