Why Change Is Hard — The 3 Reasons We Get Stuck

You know why change is hard? Change is hard because who we are and what we do feels like they’re set in stone. There are reasons this is so.  Find out how to get unstuck and make the changes you want in your life.

The rider, elephant and the path

SOME YEARS ago, I read an insightful book about how to overcome our resistance to change called Switch, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.  Since then, I’ve integrated the lessons learned through reading the book, and am tempted to present to you what’s been churned through the processor that is my mind.

But I won’t.

Frankly, I don’t think I could come up with something as instructive and compelling as did the Heath brothers in Switch.  What then I’ll do is summarize the book, hopefully in such a compelling way that you’ll want to read it.

The book is about how to change things when change is hard, which, inevitably, it is.

Surely, at some point in your life, you’ve asked yourself why that’s so… why must change be hard?

I certainly have.

In moments of glorious delusion, I get all warmed up with that feeling that I can make anything happen that I want badly enough, because I know the techniques necessary to develop the required habits that eventually will get me the golden fleece.

Yes, I am pretty familiar with habit acquisition, and am able to make new routines and/or behaviors habitual, thereby gaining whatever benefits that accrue.

Except for the stuff that’s all twisted up.  The stuff for which there’s some deeply embedded thorn. Then I, like you, perhaps, wonder why change is hard.


Why Can’t Fat People Get Thin?

I bet you have an angle on this, informed either by your own experience or that of others.  Or a good book on the topic told you the answer.

I’m not going to conjure an answer.  What I’m going to do is get all delusionally fantasical. (Again.)

Like you, I have people close to me that have been fighting (or surrendering) to the battle of the bulge their whole lives.

The reasons their battles have been incessant could fill Madison Square Garden, but irrespective of any or all of those reasons, sometimes I wonder what would happen if I could grab one of my bulging loved ones, lie him or her down and say,

“Close your eyes and relax, honey.  These electrodes won’t hurt a bit. All I’m going to do is substitute Jack LaLane’s mind with yours.”

“Damn, Joe!”, he might shout, “Don’t you know Jack LaLane is dead?  Have some respect!”

Yes, I know he’s dead, and that’s why he doesn’t need his mind anymore. But my dear overweight friend does need Jack’s mind because his is encumbered with the tall walls of limitations erected by his reactions to the people, places, things, times and events of his life.

The wall has been built with the thoughts and emotions (“attitudes”) that feed these reactions, and it’s not going to be blasted away easily.

We, then, need Jack LaLanne.

When it comes to losing weight, Jack has the clarity, emotional stability and the required techniques needed by my overweight friend.

Turns out, generally speaking, if you’re trying to change something that’s been rooted in your life for a millennia and you don’t have those three things, you’ll swiftly discover why change is hard.

This bears repeating.

The three reasons we get stuck and thereby why change is hard are:
  1. The lack of Clarity
  2. The lack of Emotional Stability
  3. The lack of Techniques

The mind transfer completed, my overweight friend stands up and engages the battle of the bulge.  With Jack in control, there’s nothing to stop him:

  • There’s no lack of clarity about what needs to be done.
  • There’s no emotional baggage telling him that he can’t do it, or he’s meant to be fat, or he’ll be lost as a thin person
  • There’s no impression that the path to thinness is impossibly hard.

Jack’s done it all before.  Put his mind in your brain and he’ll transform your body into a push-up, pull-up, boat towing machine!

Given that you really can’t infuse Jack’s mind into your brain to lose weight, or Einstein’s so you can win a Nobel prize, let’s turn to Chip and Dan Health’s marvelously insightful book, Switch, and learn how we might make the change happen all by ourselves.


How To Get the Rider Moving the Elephant Along the Right Path

In Switch, readers are presented with three metaphors:

  1. The Rider,
  2. The Elephant, and
  3. The Path.

Understanding the motivations of each and how they interrelate will give you an understanding of why you resist change.

Since much of what I write in this blog is about age intervention, or how to age less, become age-proof and that sorta thing, let’s apply these concepts to the objective of aging better.

Look around you.

By definition, most people are aging normally because they’re thinking and behaving normally.  Perhaps you have been as well, but this needs to change if you’re to become age-proof.

To become age-proof, you need to change.

You cannot keep doing what you’ve been doing and expect a different outcome. This is true of all aspects of your life, and certainly it’s true regarding how you’ve built your own Four Pillars.

{Read The Four Pillars of A Long and Strong Life}

Although the concepts embedded in Mindset, Reset, Fuel and Move — the “Four Pillars” — may be new to you, you have nevertheless been living a life that contains each of them.

You have certain predominant thoughts, you have a certain hormonal and toxic profile, you ingest specific foods and drinks, and you move in a certain way, even if it’s primarily standing up from a chair and walking to a car.

These thoughts and behaviors haven’t been serving you very well, not when it comes to becoming age proof.

So, some things need to change — The disempowering thoughts and beliefs that make up your attitudes need to be replaced with those that support the acquisition of new behaviors, actions and habits.

And it all begins with your noggin, your mind, which is a fine segue to introducing the metaphors the Health brothers use in Switch, beginning with the Rider.

The “Rider” is your analytical mind.  It respond to clarity and common sense.  It’s the thinker, the planner and wants to plot the course for a better future.

It has a weakness, one that often disrupts the best of plans: the Rider tends to get transfixed in analysis-paralysis.  It makes such fine plans but has trouble acting on them.

Moreover, the Rider typically is consumed with trying to figure out solutions to problems, rather than evaluating why the good things — the bright spots — are working so well.

The result is that the Rider sees problems looming everywhere, and thereby gets stymied, frozen in place, and goes nowhere.

For your Rider to make change happen it must be directed:

•    Follow the bright spots (discover and clone what’s working)
•    Script the critical moves (starting with small steps)
•    Point to the destination (know where you’re going and why it’s worth it)

OK, great, we have that Rider all figured out, but it’s not alone.  After all, we’re talking about a “rider”, so what’s it riding?

Turns out, in the Heath brothers parlance, the Rider is riding something quite large, an Elephant.

The Elephant is your emotional self.  It’s a very large part of you, and it likes comfort, and safety; moreover it’s instinctive, skittish, lazy and seeks the quick payoff.

No matter how adept the Rider, if the Elephant doesn’t want to move, it doesn’t and no change happens.

For your Elephant to allow change to happen it must be motivated:

•    Find the feeling (knowing is insufficient; it needs to feel)
•    Shrink the change till it no longer spooks the Elephant
•    Grow yourself (cultivate a “can do” identity and instill a growth mindset)

Once the Rider thinks there’s clarity, process, direction, and the Elephant feels that the change is safe, the question that remains is,

“What’s the path?”.

The Path must be shaped so that it makes sense to the Rider and comfortable and safe for the Elephant.  That means that the Path can’t be too hard or treacherous. If it seems that way, well, the Path simply needs to be reshaped, or a different one taken, but it must be one that can get you the change you seek.

For your Path to be traveled it must be shaped:

•    Tweak the environment (changing the situation changes behavior)
•    Build habits (once a habit, new behavior doesn’t tax the Rider)
•    Rally your buddies (behavior is contagious, so help it spread)

Once the Rider is properly directed, the Elephant feels safe and motivated, and the Path is shaped, it’s time to begin the journey… to make the change(s) happen.

OK, you got all that?

Then let’s apply it to something… how about you go find out how well you fare with the three tests that can predict your lifespan, the topic of the next section…


Improve Your Life Expectancy and Vitality

That’s the direction you’ll be heading if you improve your score on any of three tests that can predict your lifespan.

In the post, Three Easy Ways You Can Predict Your Lifespan in 1o Minutes, I present three tests that have to do with:

  • Waist circumference,
  • Pulse rate, and
  • Sitting/standing.

Each, scientists say, can predict your lifespan, because they each are outward reflections of a whole host of biochemical machinations going on inside your body.

So, if you’re not too resistant to the change I’m about to suggest, do this:

  • Go do the three tests.
  • Pick one you’re willing to work to improve.
  • Lay out a plan.
  • Get started.

Remember, there will be resistance.  But now you’re equipped to penetrate the resistance, to discover what your Rider, Elephant and Path is up to, and how to address each.

If whatever you’d like to change seems to big to tackle, start with cultivating a tiny habit that will move you in the right direction.  Naturally, I have a blog post for that — it’s called, How To Make Tiny Habits Big.

Go read it.


Switch, how to change things when change is hard

Click the image and buy the book

P.S. Make your change happen with a light heart, which is a lot easier to do if you recruit a buddy or two.

Last Updated on December 22, 2023 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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