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How to Tackle Resistance to Make Meaningful Life Changes

“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” ~Winston Churchill

A little over two years ago, in December of 2009, I wrote these hopeless words in my journal:

“All around me, I’m noticing people perpetuate patterns they claim to hate or end up in situations they’ve always dreaded. And I can’t seem to break free. When I take steps to make a new life or forge a new path, barriers pop up left and right. I don’t know what to do differently.”

At the time, it felt as if my repeated attempts at changing the trajectory of my life toward joy and expansion were constantly thwarted by some covert forces intent on keeping me down.

I felt as if I was fated to feel unfulfilled and discontent for the rest of my life. I felt like maybe everyone was fated to repeat maladaptive patterns and self-sabotaging mistakes.

My, how things have changed.

Since then, I’ve taken significant steps toward major changes in my life, all bringing me closer to a joyful life based on my “anchors,” or values. My life continues to open up and I am presented with new opportunities daily.

But there is still resistance. Nay-sayers. Obstacles to this change that I previously thought were unmanageable. In the past when these obstacles came up, I would shrink back into my old life thinking, “I knew I couldn’t do that.”

In the present, I harness all of my strength and resources and confront these obstacles head-on. I know that there will always be resistance to change. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

I’ve identified the two primary barriers to change, and some strategies for managing both.

Read on to begin charting a new course for your life.

Internal Factors

It’s true: We are creatures of habit. Our brain creates neural pathways from repetitive thoughts and behaviors in an attempt to be efficient and make those things easier. And after some time, they become our default way of functioning.

We live on “auto-pilot” in some cases. Even with an intention to change, we find ourselves repeating the same behaviors and experiencing the same thoughts. When these thoughts are based in doubt and fear, they are even harder to change. On some level, they are serving a protective function for us.

But to have an amazing life, it’s necessary to take risks. To appeal to your hesitant side, make these calculated risks. Plan your change in a rational way and challenge the internal messages that tell you why it’s not possible. Biologically, we seek homeostasis, so it’s helpful to coax your brain into change gradually and rationally.

For example, say you currently work in a job you find stressful and unsatisfying. You are not sufficiently compensated. You want something else for your life.

Here are some ways your brain may trick you into staying complacent, and some ways you can “talk back” to outsmart yourself and support your change goals:

The Homeostatic Message:

“This economy is dreadful. You are lucky you even have a job!”

The Change Response:

“I am lucky to have a job! It’s a great jumping-off point for the work that will be more rewarding.”

The Homeostatic Message:

“No one is going to pay you more than you make now. You should just be satisfied with that.”

The Change Response:

“Thousands of people make far more than I do and work far less. I have something to offer the world, and I can be adequately compensated for my gifts.”

Responding to your fears and doubts in a way that challenges their validity can go a long way in helping you create change. Practice this technique regularly.

Additionally, take time to outline why you want to change, steps you may take to change, supports you may call on, resources that may be available.

Make this change your priority and do a little something toward it each and every day.

The ideas listed above are some good ways to convince yourself that this change is feasible.

But what about other people? That brings us to the second barrier to change:

External Factors

There are so many external factors that inhibit change, including geography, family situation, and finances. But for the purpose of this article, let’s consider the detractors. The nay-sayers. The people in your life who would prefer you stay just as you are.

Why is it that people have a hard time endorsing your goal of change?

Because they seek homeostasis, too.

It is more comfortable for them if you remain your same, predictable self.

I suppose sometimes people may try to sabotage others out of fear or jealousy or other malicious intentions. But I think most of the time we contend with people close to us—parents, friends, spouses—who just prefer to maintain the status quo.

Your change, growth, and shift will inevitably require them to do some changing, too, as they’ll have to respond differently to you. And this is uncomfortable for others.

Interestingly, using the above example of wanting a new job, these people may literally say the same things your homeostatic brain says. You could respond rationally, as above, and explain why their logic is flawed. But in most cases, that won’t suffice.  They’re probably not interested in hearing your logic, and it most likely won’t help them endorse your change.

Ironically, you can’t change them.

So what can you do?

How should you handle the people who, well-meaning or otherwise, attempt to sabotage your efforts to create a better life for yourself?

Do you just cease your efforts and retreat back into the life you longed to change?

No.

Here are a few ways to bolster yourself against the inevitable backlash of people who are resistant to your change:

1. Get very clear on your own values and motivations for this change.

If you feel confident about it, you’ll be less susceptible to others’ opinions.

2. Prepare a comeback.

It could be matter-of-fact, humorous, or whatever fits best for you. Anticipate the common reaction (i.e.: “In this economy, you’re lucky to have a job!”), and prepare a response that will shut the conversation down and make it clear you’re not open to negotiating about your intention (“I know! I am so lucky to have a job. How’s your job going?”).

3. Seek out supporters.

Find people, websites, groups, and resources that say you can make the change you intend. Read success stories, solicit pep talks, share your short-term goals—create a change-based community of like-minded people.

4. Filter your updates.

You know that old saying, “You can’t get bread at the hardware store?” Some people may never support your progress. Consider saving your progress updates for people who are more supportive. If you give detractors less opportunity to offer their feedback, it’s less you’ll have to contend with.

5. Be a resource.

When people begin to notice that extra pep in your step, they’ll want a little of this “change” thing for themselves! If you sense someone is flirting with their own change, offer your story and share what has worked for you. Don’t push, and do accept their resistance. Change is a slow process, but if someone is ready to take the first step, you could very well serve as their catalyst.

6. Push through it.

There may be times when it feels impossible. When so many forces are stacked up against you, and you can’t possibly forge a new path in life. This is exactly when you keep going.

This is the stress point beyond which true lasting change occurs. Do reconsider your goals and make sure they’re still in line with your core beliefs. And if so, just keep going.

You can create a new life for yourself and serve as an inspiration to others.

Photo by Ajejandra Mavroski

Avatar of Angela Marchesani

About Angela Marchesani

Angela Marchesani is a psychotherapist and Holistic Health Coach practicing in Wayne, Pennslyvania. Her website is www.spokesholistic.com.

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  • Lauren Hope

    This is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you. Today, I will start at least one of the life changing things that I have been longing for.

  • Darvitch

    Everyday there is some nugget that serves to help me be clear about the new me and my intetions. Today’s writings are even more succinct and so appreciated after a bad full moon patch, thank you.

  • http://tammi-tan.blogspot.com/ tammi

    I really enjoyed this article.

    “I felt as if I was fated to feel unfulfilled and discontent for the rest of my life.”
    I feel like this from time to time but then I realize that this very discontent is what fuels our growth and progress. Whenever this feeling creeps up I feel like it’s time to do something or embark on a new project.

  • scilla

    beautifully written, and very relevant to our society today! 

  • Alyssa

     Same here! Especially the part about changing jobs. Yes, I’m lucky to have a job and one where I make decent money. But I also have to remind myself I have a valued and varied skill set, and that I’m worth more than I think I am! Plus, having to work less hours at a new job than the one I do now will be a huge help to my mental and physical well-being.

  • Ingridew

    Great article.  This is exactly what I needed to read today. 

  • Krystle

    Well hello, post-that-could-not-be-better-timed-or-more-relevant-to-my-life!
    Angela, your post gave me exactly what I’ve been searching for.

    By nature, I tend to be high-strung, worrisome, anxious. After being married for a year to a man who operates in the complete opposite way, I see the benefits of being more easy-going and peaceful – so I strive to be more like him. But some of my best friends are quick to judge my new goals to be more like my husband. They are the nay-sayers. They remind me of my shortcomings, which I’ve been confused by because they have always been such wonderful friends.

    “If you give detractors less opportunity to offer their feedback, it’s less you’ll have to contend with.” — THAT was golden advice! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!?

    Thanks for the perspective!

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Lauren,Go for it! And enlist support. :-) I am so glad you were in the right space to hear this! Congratulations on taking that first step. 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Alyssa- It’s a calculated risk, sometimes, and one to consider carefully. But most important changes carry risk: it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action! I’m glad you found something useful in this. 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Darvitch, Keep on keepin’ on! You are always becoming more of who you are. Thanks for reading! 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Tammi, YES! I agree. There’s a balance between accepting what is and moving toward what could be… But that restlessness, I think, is usually a nudge toward action. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your perspective! 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Thank you, Scilla! I am glad you found it relevant. Thank you for reading! 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Ingridew, I am so glad that this came at the right time! I hope you feel bolstered toward the steps you want to take. Thank you! 

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Krystle,

    Ha, yes: TinyBuddha is a font of “posts-that-could-not-be-better-timed-or-more-relevant-to-my-life”! :-) Isn’t it interesting to see how people respond to our shifts? 

    You may feel their resistance in any case, but you don’t need their permission to forge your new path. If you expect more nay-saying, keep your intentions sacred by sharing with people who can support your transformation.

    You got this! :-) Thanks for reading! 

  • Deepak

    I loved this post. Thank you so much.

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Thank you, Deepak! I hope it was useful for you. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/kiri.speirs1 Kiri Speirs

    I saw this great video recently on overcoming what’s holding you back from change 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjSgn92BiyE&feature=share It's a TEDx talk by Sophie Chiche, curator of http://www.lifebyme.com

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Kiri,

    That was a fantastic video that really speaks to the nitty-gritty of our internal blocks to change. Thank you for sharing! 

  • Sawdust56

    When you get in a tight place and everything seems to go against you, til it seems you cannot hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the time and place that the tide will turn! Harriett Beecher Stowe, I hung on to this a lot of days trying to find the real me. Harold H

  • AngelaMarchesani

    Sawdust56,

    Ah, so true! The part of the process where we’re exerting the most effort and begin to feel tired is the part where change happens. Thank you! 

  • Guest

    alright. alright.

  • Mzm4infinity

    excellent!  i got this right when I soooo needed it!  thank you!

  • Neha

    This is exactly what everyone needs in their lifes…

  • melanie

    so right so great thank you!