• man walking through trail in forest symbolizing change

Changing How We Think About Change

At the end of 2009, the year I lost my job and we were evicted from our apartment, I took a life inventory. My pen and paper outlined the objective “proof” I needed to initiate change. That initial inventory led me to write five visionary resolutions. I wrote the same list again on December 31, 2010… 2011… 2012…

It took four years, maintaining a non-negotiable mindset and dedicated focus, to make those resolutions permanent changes in my life. I failed all of 2010 and most of 2011. By the end of 2012, some transitions began to take hold. By the end of 2013, my identity had completely changed.

New Years Eve 2014, I was celebrating a new life. I had quit my job, paid off $36,000 in debt, competed on 5 national stages, and had completely redefined myself.

If I had approached that list as most people view resolutions – as a checklist of habits that will lead to a better life – I would never have accomplished my goals.

Change is a Basic Psychological Need

If you study the work of any development theorist, change is the only way to achieve what we want and need in our lives. Regardless of age, nationality, education, or gender, all human beings have innate psychological needs to feel safe and secure both physically and emotionally, to feel competent, to feel valued, and to feel in control.

As much as people resist it, change is a basic, psychological need. I have never met anyone completely content with their lives. If they say they are, they are either in denial about some situation that could be improved upon or passively complacent about their place in life. Generally speaking, people in these scenarios seek change by means of what I call “fillers”. These fillers create short-lived excitement and value. They initially create a sense of doing something different but when the activity has run its course, people feel the crash and burn. Then the cycle of finding another filler begins again.

Let’s take the simple example of exercise. I see it every January. People spend tons of money on new gym memberships, new workout gear, new meal containers and a new meal prep bag, and on hiring a personal trainer. The new stuff is very exciting! A month later, the excitement has worn off, and it’s back to the old routines that got them overweight and unhealthy to begin with.

What happened? It’s not that the desire to change isn’t there. Otherwise, this wouldn’t continue to be one of the top resolutions every year. People WANT to be healthier. It is a basic psychological NEED.

However, the way a person views and understands change is greatly faulted from the beginning.

Change is Not a Checklist

I recently reviewed a 2-part leadership podcast by Craig Groeschel entitled “Embracing Change.”  In it, he talks about changing how we think about change, and I absolutely agree with this concept. For most people, resolutions are a checklist of habits to complete through self-proclaimed will-power, discipline, and restriction. That’s not change. No, that’s rule-following. People hate that way of changing!

However, as Groeschel states in the podcast, “People do not hate change. They hate the way we try to change them.” In addition, I think people hate they way they try to change themselves, simply because the majority of people do not understand the process. We naturally resist what we don’t understand but will naturally follow what we know. Because of this, people set themselves up for failure right out of the gate.

Ask anyone who has failed at change in the past, I guarantee they will tell you two things:

  1. I know what to do.
  2. I know why I have to do it.

In both instances, they are wrong. If they knew what to do, they would have done it, and if they knew why they were doing it, they would have never quit.

Change is not a checklist. It is a vision rooted in purpose.

Change is First Defined by a Need and a Want

Needs and wants are easy to define because the proof is right there. You’re overweight. Your doctor said you are unhealthy. You are in debt living paycheck to paycheck (regardless of how much you make by the way). Your personal relationships are toxic. You work too much, spend little time with loved ones, feel your finances are out of control, and continually deal with emotional chaos.

We really don’t have to dig very hard to identify things that we need and want to change about our lives. Those are all visible on the surface, to you and the people close to you.

Do we admit to them? That’s a whole other story.

Completing a life inventory is the first step to change. We must have the ability to take an honest look in the mirror, define what we need and want to change, without accommodating pride and ego. It is a very important, and time-consuming, first step. Minimize it and the next crucial step will not take hold deep enough to drive you when guaranteed struggles and obstacles come along.

Life Changing Action is Driven by Vision and Purpose

I take several weeks to write out my life inventory. As I am doing that, I begin to SEE my future unfold because I am seeing my past and my present for what it truly is. This is called vision, and this is where the list of resolutions begins, NOT with the checklist of needs and wants which is where most everyone stops.

Even before my action plan goes into place, I have to write the resolutions with the correct mindset. Again, this is not a checklist limited by what I am currently capable of. This is the VISION for my life unlimited by my belief and purpose.

Whenever my actions did not lead to change, it wasn’t that I didn’t want change. I desperately wanted change! Only I had not correctly defined my purpose nor did I see and believe in the future vision. This is the defining mindset behind permanent life change.

Can you see the vision for yourself in accomplishing this list of goals? Do you believe you have what it takes, that you deserve the life you want to achieve, and that this vision is possible for you?

Change is All About You (But Not Really)

Many come to me afraid of what I am going to “make” them do. I laugh because, first of all, I can’t make anyone do anything. Secondly, people come to me seeking help. I don’t go after them attempting to change them.

As a leader and coach, I have one job. I’ve not heard it stated any better than by Tom Landry who said,

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”

You hear. You see. You know. You do.

Change, at the end of the day, is all about you. Always has been, always will be. However, that does not mean doing everything by yourself. Hopefully, you recognize that change is a multi-layered process most people don’t understand but assume they do. This assumption is why change never comes to fruition by one’s own power.

Even when vision and purpose are strongly established, change is still a difficult process. Remember, it took me FOUR YEARS to reach my goals, and I did not accomplish all of that by myself. I continually sought mentorship in every arena of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. I drove myself towards those goals but had people walking me through the journey… people who had already succeeded in what I wanted to do.

Change is Never Ending, and That’s a Good Thing

Once change is achieved, it becomes somewhat of an addiction. A good one. Remember we began this article with the concept that all humans are wired for development. It’s our nature to want to thrive and grow, ideally for the right reasons. Unfortunately, change is not easy, it’s usually painful, and it usually comes with a price of letting something else go.

I’ll close here with a powerful quote from the book, The Flight of the Buffalo:

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.

What have you overvalued in your life? Imagine if what you are hoping to change has 1000x more value.

Wouldn’t it be worth giving up what you have for what you will gain?

I gave up everything. It was absolutely worth it.


About the Author:

Melinda Rocha is a leadership coach and fitness professional based in Washington, DC. She graduated from the University of Michigan with her B.S. in Cellular/Molecular Biology and completed doctorate coursework at the University of St. Augustine Health Sciences. Her passion is helping others overcome obstacles of their past in order to live fully in their present and achieve their fullest future potential.

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