6 Reasons Why People Don’t Change, and What to Do About That

by Henrik Edberg


Image: *Zara (license)

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“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”
James Allen

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
Arnold Bennett

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin

You have probably arrived here because you want to make a positive change in your life. Perhaps you want to improve your social skills, your health or simply your attitude and how you think.

Now this is great. But it seldom that easy. There may be obstacles outside of you. There are almost certainly obstacles inside of you.

In this article I’ll explore some of those common obstacles that can make change so hard and how to overcome them. Hopefully you’ll find something that can help you to move forward to make that change.

1. You don’t want to change.

Maybe you think you want to change something. But is it really your wish? Or is it the wish of your parents, boss, partner, friends or society?

If you don’t really want to make the change deep down then it will be very hard to go the distance. Yes, you can begin but if there is no inner drive to do it then you will lose motivation easily and feel like giving up all the time after a while.

What to do about it: Sit down and really think about whose goals you are working towards. If they are not yours the think about what you can do to stop working on them and spend more time on your own consciously chosen goals instead.

If you still have to go on with may have started as someone else’s goal – perhaps your boss has told you to do something and you can’t just ditch that if you want to keep your job – then find your own reasons for working on that goal. Brainstorm and write them all down. Review that paper and make the goal into more of your goal and know why you are working towards it for you own sake.

This is also why it is hard – if not impossible – to change someone else. So be careful about such wishes and hopes.

2. You don’t feel courageous enough.

Change can be scary. Doing things for the first time or stepping into the unknown can pretty frightening. You may feel like you need some courage to make those changes you want, to take those first steps.

What to do about it: Well, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

You have to be willing to take action, to move out of your comfort zone and to face fear to increase your courage and self confidence in a way that stays with you (not like when you pump it up temporarily by using different exercises or music for example). You have to be willing to take the punch and risk some emotional pain for a while.

There is no way of getting around that.

And I won’t lie to you. Sometimes it will suck. You will go to bed and feel sick to your stomach and just hope the day will end. But many times you will feel great as you just move over that invisible barrier and face your fear. You may not even get the result you wanted but still feel great about yourself because you just dared to face that fear or take some action.

But what about the times you felt sick to your stomach and went to bed feeling not so good at all? Well, the next day you will wake up. And you realize that you are still here. You are intact and the earth keeps spinning and you get up for a new day. Life continues. But now you know deep down that you can handle things at least a little bit better because you could handle what happened yesterday. You have raised your confidence in yourself and become stronger.

And another thing is this: when you do things you don’t just build confidence in your ability to handle different situations. You also experience progressive desensitization. What that means is that situations – like for example public speaking or maybe just showing your latest blogpost to an audience out there – that made you feel all shaky become more and more normal in your life. It is not longer something you psyche yourself up to do. It just becomes normal. Like tying your shoes, hanging out with your friends or taking a shower. And so you don’t really need that much courage after a while.

3. Your environment is holding you back.

If you are for example trying to lose weight then it will be a lot harder if the people around you are eating junk food every day. If you are trying to think more positively then it will be a lot harder if you hang out with negative people all the time and watch the news and negative and fear-inducing TV-shows too much.

What to do about it: Change your environment in a ways that will support you. That’s doesn’t mean that you have to take drastic measures like never talking to some friend or family member again to cultivate a more positive attitude.

It may just means that you cut down on seeing the most negative people/TV-shows etc. that much and replace that with more time with positive people and positive media consumption. By doing that the process will be so much easier.

If you are trying to lose weight then find people with similar goals that you can spend some time with each week. Even if it’s just via an online forum of some sort.

Carve out some time and a space for yourself with people and motivational and educational information – books, blogs, magazines etc – that will support you as you move towards your goal. Also, by involving more people and/or for example signing up for courses somewhere you will feel commitment to people you like and a bit of positive social pressure to actually go there when you are supposed to instead of slacking off on the sofa.

One common problem with the social environment is that you perhaps fear what people may think if you make change. Well, in my experience people are seldom as harsh as you think they will be. They are most often supportive or simply not that interested/neutral to you making changes.

People are most often focused on their own goals and challenges in life. Or what other people may think of them. You are not the center of the universe. :)

4. You feel like giving up after one or three failures.

When you are really young then you probably don’t build failure up to be this huge thing. You learn to walk, fall down and ding your head and get up again. The same goes for learning to ride your bike.

But through influence from school and society failure becomes this increasingly more frightening thing. Sure, as you get older the stakes become higher and you can lose more if you fail. But I do think people often exaggerate the effects failure will have simply because they feel frightened.

What to do about it: Most of the time the sky will not fall if you fail. People will not mock you. Life just goes on, as I mentioned above while writing about courage. But you have to do things to gain this understanding. You will not get it just by reading these words and all the other things by people who have said the same thing for centuries.

Your mind has to experience failure – or the possibility of it – over and over to make the fear of failure to lot smaller. That has at least been my experience.

You may however find motivation in that failure teaches you things books/blogs cannot. By changing your perspective to a more curious one and seeing failure more as a learning experience than something to fear it becomes easier to handle.

5. You don’t feel enough pain yet.

Why do people change? Oftentimes I think they have simply had enough. The pain of staying as you are becomes too big and you seriously start looking for a positive way forward.

What to do about it: Besides waiting until the problem becomes pretty much unbearable you can try to see your future self vividly in your mind.

Ask yourself: What will this lead to in 5 and 10 years? Where are you going?

Towards massive debt, a heart attack, serious illness and severe restrictions in your future? Do you want go to that place where it is very likely that you will wind up if you don’t make a change? Then see your future self where you have made the positive change. What positive and awesome things has it brought you in 5 years and in 10 years? See it all in your mind. And remind yourself of the positive and negative consequences by writing them down and reviewing them whenever you feel like quitting and going back to your old ways.

Vividly seeing the probably very real future consequences of not changing can be that nudge you need to get serious about improving something in your life.

6. You don’t know how to practically make the change.

This is a common obstacle. Fortunately, we nowadays have the Internet so it’s a lot easier to find practical solutions to the problems many people have faced before you.

What to do about it: Ask yourself what have other people before you or around you have done to improve their situation?

Talk to people who have made the change you want to make (lose weight, quit smoking, improve the social life etc.). Or if you can’t find anyone, read the top rated books on Amazon.com on that topic or read blog articles.

But make sure that you take advice from someone who has actually been in your shoes and gone where you want to go. Find a way that suits you. It may not be the first method or system you try. So be patient. Keep moving forward towards the things you want most in your life.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)




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{ 25 comments }

Parker Lee | howtomingle.com May 25, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Good Stuff Henrik. I’m confronted by at least 3 of those reasons every day, they like to alternate daily :)

But in all seriousness, I think my main sticking point is my environment. Out side “forces” that distract me from getting things done… damn roommates!

Cheers!
–Parker

Todd Eddy May 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

#5 explains the wave of people deleting facebook accounts. Most of those people were already aware of privacy issues in facebook and just learned to deal with it. Then the latest round was the final straw and put people in enough pain that they took the drastic step of deleting their account. I (without realizing it) did the second part of that and realized that there are people that we only know how to contact each other through facebook. So I didn’t drop it completely but just restricted what I do there and that’s a big enough positive for me.

Another one I’d add is “You don’t care if you fail.” So what if you give up running? or pursuing a career? If you stop no one is going to notice. The what to do about it would be to tell everyone you can about what it is you’re doing. You’ll then feel motivated to achieve it. Using running as an example, I’ll have people ask me how my running is going. If I quit I’d have to tell all these people that I quit because of whatever reason.

Prague May 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I think the most influential can be your environment. The mindset of people around you can really affect you, though an awareness of this by stepping outside of this, perhaps by reading articles like yours or being with like-minded people can help build some kind of shell around you which can give you a shield to counter the worst aspects of others’ negativity. You still the strength and courage to carry out your plans, but if you can find like-minded people to swap ideas with, this can be tremendously motivating. You’re alone out there ;)

Ashley June 15, 2010 at 5:14 am

I totally agree. This way of thinking is exactly what inspired my company. (www.mbtees.com) Our goal is to touch as many lives as possible in a POSITIVE way because we believe that a POSITIVE mindset inspires POSITIVE actions which have a positive effect on our community as a whole. The more lives we are able to touch in a POSITIVE way, the better our communities will become. We have a facebook fan page if you’d like to join.

Great post!

Terry Drake May 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Great post! Some really concrete advice. I really like the first part, because change is not going to happen if it’s not for the right reasons. However, if you want change then it can happen!

The other point I would like to make, is that you can change others, but only by first changing yourself. If you want to see something change in your interpesronal relationships, then you make changes. If you want more love and affection from a significant other, then show more love and affection, as well as appreciate the positives the person has to offer.

Thanks!

Mohd.saidely May 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm

true points dude, appreciate the effort :)
i found point # 5 most brilliant .!>

Erica Lee May 25, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I really like #4 & #5. I always have this idea in my head that if I try to do something & fail–others will “mock” me or inherently “know” that I failed. When I really think about it, though, this is obviously NOT true AT ALL.

Thanks for the reminder :)

Thekla Richter May 26, 2010 at 1:52 am

Great article!

Sometimes I also think people do want the change themselves, but they want it only if it’s easy. They do not want it enough to work through the difficulties of getting there, and most big changes require a lot of work. Perhaps this kind of change is more of a wish than a true want or need.

Topi May 26, 2010 at 4:28 am

This is such an important post, and well done for providing solutions as well as identifying the issues. I’m definitely sharing this one with friends, thanks!
Topi

Guru Talks May 26, 2010 at 4:49 am

Nice post Henrik, One can change if one wants to — we feel comfortable in our existing mental models even if they give us pain and, feel uncomfortable in new mental models even if they give us happiness.
And who can change his/her mental models can only change :)

Joe May 26, 2010 at 9:01 am

Unfortunately most people only change once they absolutely have to or when they are about to experience the negative effects of the lifestyle they have been living – commonly referred to as the Niagara falls syndrome.

Joshua Noerr May 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Excellent point about feeling enough pain. This is one of the main tennants of NLP. You associate massive pain with what you want to change, and then massive pleasure with the change once made.

rob white May 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Hi Hendrik,
Great tips. The path of evolution includes revolution. We mus revolt against our Conditioned-Self when it advises us to resist anything new. We can only fulfill on our purposes and aims when we enthusiastically welcome change.

Evelyn Lim May 27, 2010 at 3:05 am

A lot of times when people are resistant to changes even though they know that the changes are good for them is because of the secondary benefits that they can derive from their old habit. So it is important to discover what it is that they think they may be “sacrificing” before they are willing to make a change.

Roman Soluk May 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

You are very right with these points. I agree with all of them and the first I must say is perhaps the most important. If you don’t want to make any changes you won’t succeed. Desire is everything.

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Thanks for all the kind words and the ideas added to this article, guys! :)

Manoj May 28, 2010 at 1:46 am

Your website is amazing … pleaseeeee keep up the good work …
Thanks.

Max May 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Let’s be honest: most of us want want to change but we are not ready to pay the price. We want to have maximum benefits for a minimum of effort. It’s our human nature.

So, in my experience, you’re absolutely right Henrik when you say :
#4. You feel like giving up after one or three failures. and #5. You don’t feel enough pain yet.

Have you heard “Success Is How High You Bounce When You Hit Rock Bottom” by George Patton ?

Perhaps a good way to change would be to hit rock bottom…

Petteri @ happiness hunters May 28, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Heh, I have to join all the other people liking the 5th tip regarding the pain. Maybe it could be possible to give tips of how to feel more pain, because it would help people to make the bigger changes in their lives. :)

Josten May 28, 2010 at 5:50 pm

i agree with you that many people do not feel enough pain, have the courage and etc to change. It’s all up to the person if they truly do wan to change or not.

Dena May 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Excellent post. I really enjoyed & shared it with my readers in this week’s Carousel – http://evolutionyou.net/carousel-05-28-10/

Thank you so much for sharing.

Cheers,
Dena

Sherri Frost | Self Hypnosis May 30, 2010 at 5:03 am

#3 is something that most people ignore. The environment must be right for change and sometimes that means getting rid of stuff that doesn’t mean anything to you anymore or brings back negative memories. It also may mean spending less time or even severing relationships with those that hold you backl.

Dr Paul Dyer June 1, 2010 at 4:28 am

Point #1 is pretty much the whole enchilada. As the old joke goes, “How many psychologist does it take to change a light bulb?…just one, but the bulb must really want to change.” I’ve seen so many people over the years, leaders, parents, spouses, caught up in a useless cycle of trying to “change” someone else. It simply doesn’t work. As you point out, unless someone is willing to put in the hard effort of making change, and behavior change is almost always very difficult, it’s a complete waste of time to invest time and emotion in the process.

livesimplytolivewell June 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Change is hard. When we decide that it hurts more to stay the same than to change – that’s when most people decide to do something. But I think that change should be regarded as a constant unfolding. The more we commit to changing ourselves, the better the chance that it will happen. I’ve found one path through conscious dance, which causes different ways of thinking through intentional movement. There’s just something about it that brings clarity, and clarity makes it easier to see the changes that are needed in life.

Aja Trinidad - Taking a Look at Life June 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm

People often become so accustomed and attached to their normal state of being, that it becomes mentally and physically uncomfortable to change. I especially agree with your second point.

I think it’s important to directly ask “what am I afraid of?” and “if I make this change, what’s the worst thing that can happen to me?”

Confronting that fear head-on is a good first step in making that change happen.

Great post!

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