We all know that changing your life is rarely easy. Even when we know what we want and what to do to get it, it doesn’t always quite work out. Why?
Factors like skill, experience, knowledge, opportunity, luck, health, dedication, motivation, consistency, and so on aside, there is one reason why changing is so difficult for so many people. That reason is rarely addressed or consciously understood. It is loss.
Change and resource management
Whatever we do requires certain resources such as time, money, energy, and focus. And when we start doing something new, we have to reallocate our resources to accommodate our new activity. Essentially, we need to sacrifice something in order to be able to change something about our lives.
Even if you realize that what you are doing now is not healthy or “a waste of time,” it serves a purpose. Sometimes that loss is insignificant when you reallocate your resources, but in many instances it creates enough emotional discomfort that we feel resistant to this change, stop after a while, or revert.
So, for instance, if you decide to learn to play piano, it’s not just, “I will learn to play piano.” It’s not even, “I will dedicate two hours a day to practice piano.” It’s, “I will play piano two hours per day instead of doing X.”
And that X is where we experience loss.
Exchange and Loss
While we can have more of some resources, others are completely finite. Such as time. We all have the same 24 hours per day to do everything we choose to do. So you just can’t imagine that learning piano will magically add the two hours it requires to the initial 24 hours you have. (For the sake of simplicity, we won’t even examine the other resources – including energy, focus, and money – such a change requires.)
You will have to exchange and maybe even sacrifice something else you’re currently doing for your piano practice. “I can just get up two hours earlier.” Okay. Will you not be sleep deprived then? “No, I can go to bed two hours later.” Okay. What were you doing two hours before bed prior to this moment? Whether it was browsing the internet, watching movies, reading, napping, going for a walk, taking a bath, or anything else: this is your loss. This is what you may miss.
Sometimes this loss is practical. You were reading a novel, and now you are reading a book on coding to learn how to program. But often the loss touches us on a deeper emotional level. For example, if you decide to go jogging every night instead of chatting with your spouse, you may feel lonelier. Or you may feel guilty that now you don’t spend enough time with your children. Or you may feel more stressed and socially anxious after pursuing a degree at the expense of hanging out with your friends and family more.
Moreover, it is important to remember that we do things for a reason. Often what we do is emotional management in the first place. You may watch movies before bed because you feel anxious, scared, or lonely. The same goes with many other activities.
And so if you exchange that “unproductive” activity to something else, all those emotions may surface. So you will need to manage them in some other way—which will require some other changes.
See, it’s not that simple. Getting out of our comfort zone is hard to begin with. Dealing with a loss is not easy. Resource management can be complicated. That’s why all those “JUST DO IT!” type of pushy motivational approaches don’t work very well.
What to do about it?
Like everything in life, there are no magical solutions. However, you can be aware that every time you decide to change your life you are, by definition, exchanging one thing for another.
Evaluate whether the change is worth the price you will have to pay for it. Make a conscious decision. Perhaps move some things around to find a healthy and satisfying balance. Prioritize better. Find more preferable ways to manage your emotions. Take time to adapt to your losses and to mourn them, if necessary. Ask for help when needed. And never stop growing!
Photo: Matt Wiebe
For more on these and other topics, check out the author’s books: Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults and Self-Work Starter Kit.