Failure. Quitting. Giving up. There are many terms to describe what happens when we begin to make a big change in our lives…and then don’t. But really, it’s all about the status quo.
Our minds have what’s called a status quo bias — that is, they prefer for things to stay the same. This is why change is so difficult for many of us. We have to fight a big (often painful) internal battle with our own minds to make it happen. That battle is called the change cycle.
Sometimes life motivates us to want to change, to disrupt our status quo. This desire is phase one of the change cycle, called Discontent. Many employees get a little itch of discontent about three years into a job (or sooner!). But this discontent doesn’t have to be about work. You can be very discontent with your financial situation, with your relationships, with your health, or any other area of your life.
Regardless of the reason, discontent is an uncomfortable feeling. For a while, though, our status quo bias — our mind’s natural resistance to change — keeps us right where we are, despite our discontent.
Until we enter the second phase of the change cycle, which is The Breaking Point. I can almost hear the ominous music in the background — dun dun dun. The breaking point is when some sort of traumatic event happens, or our discontent grows to such an enormous, stressful level that we can no longer ignore it. Maybe you wrote a great presentation for a big client at work and your boss took credit for it. Maybe you got a traffic ticket and it just puts you over the edge because you have no way to pay it. Maybe you opt-in to a hike with friends and can barely make it past the parking lot before you’re gasping for breath.
Whatever it is, this big event or ultra-stressful time period, this breaking point, brings you to a place of Decision, the third phase in the change cycle. Now, suddenly, your need for change is stronger than your fear. You are READY to change, and you begin to declare it. You tell your people, “This is it! I’m not going to live like this anymore!” And you begin to take the first steps of change. You sign up for a fitness class, or you begin researching a business idea. This is a really exciting time. You feel empowered, determined to start something new and change your life! This phase is full of hope.
But inevitably, Fear raises its ugly head, and you enter phase four of the change cycle. Your mind says, “Wait, what? We’re changing? But, but…this will never work. You’ll look like a fool. You’re wasting a bunch of money. You are definitely not cut out for this.” Your brain starts working overtime, giving you reason after reason why you should stick with the status quo.
And if the mind does its job well, which it usually does, you enter phase five –Amnesia. The fear and doubt build up until your prior situation, the one that was so bad five days ago, suddenly starts to look better, and you actually begin to forget why you wanted to change in the first place. You think, “Well, we really need the benefits from my job, I should stay,” or, “I don’t want to go to a big, public gym, I’ll just wait until we can buy some home exercise equipment.”
Thus, you begin Backtracking, which is phase six. This is the exact point where most people give up on their dreams and their big plans and return to the comfort of their old life. This is the point where so much incredible personal growth gets stalled. Where so many gorgeous, fantastic business ideas get buried. And it’s really the last phase of the change cycle, because Backtracking eventually leads right back to phase one — Discontent.
There you have it, the deadly cycle: Discontent, Breaking Point, Decision, Fear, Amnesia, Backtracking, and back to Discontent.
This cycle can continue indefinitely, and it does for many, many people. There are basically two things that can break this cycle. One of them is a truly traumatic event that forces you to change, like a severe health challenge, or a divorce.
The other is a strong-willed determination to acknowledge the force of the cycle and push through hard enough to break it.
This acknowledgment can be a bit painful, as it requires self-honesty. It may mean acknowledging that fear and doubt have kept you in a situation that isn’t good for you or your family. It may mean owning that there are parts of being downtrodden that you enjoy. Maybe you get a little benefit from being a martyr or having others pity you on some level. It’s very uncommon for anyone to truly acknowledge these things, but when they do, it creates the strength needed to make a true commitment to change.
One great way to replace an unwanted cycle is to displace it with a new, better cycle. In this case, the cycle of continual progression would be a perfect replacement. Note that the word is “progression”, not “perfection”. In this cycle, the focus is on setting small goals, implementing action plans, and tracking progress. Having this focus on progress will help you fight off the fear and doubt of change, because you have something concrete to show for your efforts.
An important part of the continual progression cycle is to write your goals, action plans, and results down so you can see your progress when you need to. Grab a plain notebook, a planner, a journaling app…it doesn’t matter. Whatever you choose to use, its purpose is to allow you to see your progress. Make your progress about finishing your action plans, not about any particular success that you think should follow. In other words, instead of tracking how much weight you lose in a week, track how many minutes you spent walking, or how many servings of vegetables you ate.
Now, a word of warning. Like a chicken pox virus sitting dormant in your body, the change cycle never really goes away. We can get the upper hand, but be prepared to cycle pretty regularly between excitement and hope, and fear and doubt whenever you try to do something new in your life.
This is normal! And it does not need to be the death of you or your progress. The fear and doubt can just serve as a reminder to you to get out your continual progression journal and get back to work.
Another great tool to break the cycle of change is to find an accountability partner. Someone who will race you in a challenge to make ten sales calls before noon. Someone who will write 1,000 words a day with you. Someone who will cheerlead your successes and help you find opportunity in your failures. This can be a coach, a friend, a fellow entrepreneur, or anyone who is willing to be true and honest with you.
The change cycle has killed a lot of good that could have been put out into the world. But with the tools outlined above, the cycle can stop here, right now. So go get it done. Whatever’s in your heart that you’ve been wanting to do, today is the day you begin.