There are very few things I am certain about in life, but this next statement is one I can make with a great level of certainty: no one finds it easy to make a change.
Change removes a sense of automaticity in behaviour, which equates to energy conservation, especially in the form of brain energy. Fun facts: the brain uses 22% of the body’s overall energy at rest, with the other two tissues coming in as equal energy consumers being muscle and the liver. So, if you spent most of your day cranking out formulas or writing papers and feel exhausted, now you know why. Quite amazing to know what takes up 2% of our body weight, uses 22% of our energy at rest. Therefore, in terms of behavioural change, which takes energy, our brain doesn’t want to do it – too much work! We all want to tread down the path of least resistance, rather than choosing a path less trodden.
“We all want to tread down the path of least resistance, rather than choosing a path less trodden.“
I have yet to tell a client to kick the processed food, become vulnerable, start loving themselves, schedule in a weekly ‘are we all good honey?’ conversation with their partner, or limit alcohol and they respond with, “Great! Sign me up Doc!”
So, why is it so hard? Motivational psychology is incredibly interesting. How can some human specimens be so motivated to initiate a change, while others are paralyzed by it? Some seem to take on the challenge with both engines burning while others don’t give it more than a fleeting thought.
Motivation usually comes about in one of two ways. Somehow, you become inspired to act differently by either wanting to gain or achieve, or you come to a point of desperation and are now left with no choice (due to emotional or physical pain). Clearly, we want the former, not the latter. The clearest example of the latter is what I often experience in my work as a marriage therapist.
Why do we need something so detrimental happening toward the relationship before we do something about it? I am sure most medical health professionals feel the same way. However, we are all guilty of it. Again, change is difficult. Habit formation is tough.
According to the theory of self-determination, we all have this innate psychology to seek autonomy, competence, and relatedness. An example of this in real life might be a teenager completing their math assignments.
If they are motivated by competence, then it is possible they might be seeking out post-secondary studies in architecture, accounting, engineering, business, etc.
If motivated by connection or relatedness, they might want to be in the ‘smart class’ with the ‘smart kid group’, or they want to be like mom or dad, seeing themselves related to a certain type of professional.
If motivated by autonomy, they would not like the idea of relying on anyone to show them how to complete the math work, and therefore, strive to complete the work independently. Perhaps their parents have preached self-reliance and independence.
So, if your teenager has high self-determination, but fails his math test, they will admit their role in the failure, believe they can do better, and then take action. As a parent, self-determination can work well in this scenario, but not so great in other areas of living under a ruled-abided household. I will let you play out personal scenarios in your head. Ultimately it is our caregivers who guided our behaviour and educated us in the area of pragmatics.
Okay, maybe that is enough psychobabble for one post. Let’s talk real life and why I brought this to your attention.
Perhaps I want you to have more compassion towards yourself when you are aware you want to change, but don’t know where to even begin, or what that would look like.
Look back to the three precursors associated with self-determination. Are you most motivated by competence, autonomy, or relatedness? If there is one area that resonates with you more than another, jump on it. Let’s say you are addicted to either sugar, alcohol, smoking or diet coke (or maybe all four?). What might make you say no to that substance? Is it your health – that drives you towards living to a ripe old age in a state of self-relience – free of doctor’s visits, healthcare aides, and a senior’s residence? Maybe you want to have a long retirement with your partner, travel the world, and play with your grandchildren. It is different for everyone.
Another person who is extremely disappointed with their romantic relationship may be motivated to seek marriage counselling by all three areas; Autonomy – they took the initiative to search the web for Winnipeg Marriage Therapist or Psychology Today, scanned their options and booked the appointment; Relatedness – craving more in their marriage, wanting connection and love, and for the fondness and admiration to return to their relationship; Competence – perhaps as a parent to their children? This person may want their child to grow up feeling secure in their home, to model to their children what a loving relationship looks like? Perhaps, it is an awareness of necessary skills and tools to promote better connections and communication with your partner and are determined to seek out those skills.
In summary, change is difficult for everyone.
I hope breaking it down into three specific areas of self-determination might be enough incentive for you to become more curious about what ignites you toward making a change. After you do that, don’t look back, listen to your gut, and go for it. Remember, it is never failure, only self-discovery. Personally, I love learning about myself. I guess this is why I do what I do.
Hopefully you do too.