Even without a conscious decision to change, adverse circumstances may cause us to become different people. Mild mannered individuals can become obsessed with anger. Secure women may become irrationally jealous. Warm-hearted people can become consumed with hatred and resentment; and often other people are held responsible for the changed persona. Jealous people believe that their emotions were instigated by their partner’s actions and hatred may be blamed on someone else’s inadequacies. Decent citizens can actually feel “driven” to murder or assault after being confronted with betrayal or consumed by greed. Although external events appear to be responsible, we are the ones who directly control our responses.
Although change is constant, it can be very difficult to change. The first lesson that anyone learns is that it is impossible to change someone else without his or her consent or willingness to change. The best we can do is set a good example. Many people become involved in relationships with the hope that their partners will be different around them. Even though there are signs that the partner is greedy or selfish, we naively believe that love will cause a transformation of character. Too often we are disappointed. We see changes in the beginning of a relationship but after the couple becomes comfortable with each other, the undesirable attributes seem to return.
Someone has to have a desire to change, which means that the person is already uncomfortable with negative personality characteristics. It is easier to do what is comfortable, which means that more often than not, people retain negative attributes only because it is too difficult to evolve. The negativity is seen as less desirable than the hard work that is necessary for change.
Changes happen very slowly and only after numerous negative results occur as a result of the behavior. For example, it is easy to give into the immediate impulse to be argumentative, but if relationships are lost as a result, the obstinate behavior is likely to change. The knee-jerk response may still appear from time to time, but control over behavior will eventually appease its expression.
Lifestyle changes are extremely difficult to implement. We may need a “push” from the outside world to do anything at all. For example, it may be difficult to leave an unfulfilling job, but if a new job offer is presented, the change is easier to adopt. Many people find that lifestyle changes happen because there is no other choice. They lose their jobs, there is a tragedy or death in the family, they get divorced, or they incur financial difficulties. These external events appear to be negative, but if they allow us to make long-term changes that eventually turn positive, we later realize the necessity for these adverse conditions. It is just difficult to see the positive benefits while the negative circumstances are monopolizing our lives.
It is extremely difficult to impose change even when we know that our day-to-day experiences are unfulfilling. How do we know that the “devil” we don’t know is better than the “devil” we know? We could make a life-altering decision without being sure that the consequences will be positive. For example, I have always had the dream of working with the poor in
Many people believe that fate will offer opportunities for change and some people pray for intervention from a more powerful source (such as God). Sometimes, subconsciously, we let the hope of the interference of fate determine our direction. Fate provides the opportunity and free will determines our response to the opportunity. Though we can also create our own fate. I may wish that fate will provide the opportunity to go to Africa but if I attend networking events where there are people who are working in
We also don’t realize how much power we have over effecting change. We underestimate our drive and determination. We forget that we have the power to accomplish anything we want to accomplish. We can also lose confidence in ourselves. Even if we desire change, will we really be successful? We need to have faith in ourselves. We can be successful at anything we are committed to.
Routines and patterns also interfere with change. We become accustomed to a way of life and altering those patterns can seem insurmountable. The routine seems to give us stability and security, which may appear desirable. It takes a lot of courage to give up the security of our day-to-day routines. Yet, routines often lead to ruts. Security may be beneficial, but ruts lead to a severe lack of fulfillment.
Other people can also make change seem impossible. If someone is married with children, change is not only effected by the person who wants to change. The desires of the rest of the family must be taken into consideration. If the children are secure in their schools and close to their friends, a radical change could severely harm their well-being. Furthermore, one partner may have a career that can be seriously damaged if the other partner chooses to alter the family’s life style.
The only thing constant in life is change. In the flash of a moment, our entire lives can be different. For example, my friend’s father was extremely healthy and extremely intellectual. He was an engineer with eight patents. His fulfillment in life was through solving problems and his brain was constantly active. Yet, out of nowhere, he had a stroke and his highly intellectual mind was no longer functional. The man her mother married was now a different person. He could barely speak and he became childlike. This change was hard for everyone in the family. The person they knew seemed to be gone, even though he was still there. His new persona was extremely difficult to adjust to. We think tomorrow will be the same as today but there is always the possibility that our entire reality can be altered in a second. It can change just as quickly for the positive. Our dreams can come true just by meeting the right person at the right time. We may meet the person we will marry, a loyal friend who brings us much pleasure, or someone who will change our career.
If change is so prevalent, then why would we resist it? I think people are uncomfortable with change because they don’t know what to expect and they are afraid of making the wrong decisions. For example, we could end an unfulfilling relationship, but how can we be sure that the next relationship will be any better? Change is going to happen whether we like it or not. Unfulfilling relationships will end even if there is nothing better on the horizon. We can let external events change us, or we can be proactive and effect changes by capitalizing on our personal power to positively influence the end result.
Change requires action instead of fantasy. The big changes may seem drastic, but smaller changes can be implemented fairly easily. We may want to change our identity, which can be an insurmountable goal. Yet, in the short term, we could change our hairstyle or clothing. Sometimes small external alterations can lead to a path that allows us to make significant changes in our lives. There are organizations that allow people to go to poorer countries for two weeks at a time. We may not be able to move to
Sometimes we place ourselves in a state of limbo as change is affecting our lives. Fear of change causes paralysis and if we let our fears monopolize our lives, we may be lead down a path that is undesirable. The negative end result occurs only because we were too afraid to act. Sometimes, we secretly wish that someone could enter our lives to help us make the necessary transition. It may feel traumatic to incorporate change alone and a push from a friend, family member or lover can help us accomplish our goals. When we are accountable to others, we are motivated by the energy to succeed and we fear non-action because we do not want to disappoint the people we care about. Although we are responsible for our own actions, external influences can provide us with the drive and ambition that is necessary for change. There is power in numbers. If two people need something to happen, instead of one, the power of the coalition can help bring about change.
Many people want to be inspired to change. Inspiration is an extremely positive energy force. When we are inspired, we feel energized, motivated, and excited to change. Deepak Chopra says, “Inspiration is that state in which mind and heart are connected.” For some people, inspiration feels like a force from a power that is supernatural or magical. Believing in something that is bigger than we are can make us feel that we can accomplish anything in this world. The happiest times in my life were the times that I felt inspired. Whether it was politics, a new company, or turning an idea into a reality – any form of inspiration had a powerful effect on my well-being. Even reading the right book could make me feel inspired to change. Inspiration means that we believe that something is important. Yet, we don’t always need others or an outside force to provide it to us. We can find inspiration in our own souls. Sometimes it just requires hope and faith in ourselves or in our “mission” in life. We can believe that we are the “something important” that needs to evolve and we can find ways to inspire ourselves. After all, the most inspiring force on this planet is love and we have the power of choosing love at any time or place. If we want ourselves to be happy and if we believe in our capabilities, we can find the inspiration within. Miracles happen all the time, if we ask for them. If we believe that miracles can happen for us, we can become inspired by the hope and power of mystical forces that we may not understand.
What do we do if we want to change someone else? What if someone we love is traveling down a path that will lead to eventual destruction? What can be done? Intervention is a serious action and will be unsuccessful if the affected person is not cooperative. If the problem is a chemical addiction, we could convince someone to go through substance abuse rehabilitation, but the person will return to the addiction if he or she is not committed to change. For example, at one time, Robert Downey Jr. was ostracized by
Experts say that a smoker cannot stop smoking until the person wants to quit. It is no different with any other type of problem. The threat of loss of love, family or job can be powerful external factors that cause a person to become committed to change. Yet, threatening the loss of love can be a very dangerous way of forcing change. Support is more compassionate and more effective than withdrawing love. People who are in trouble need assistance and empathy from the people they love. It’s hard to conquer our problems alone. Withdrawing love may be dangerous and can lead to an exacerbation of the problem.
We need to help people evaluate the benefits and costs of certain behaviors. Individuals are rational. The reason for the negative behavior is that the perceived benefits are greater than the costs. The escape provided from drugs or alcohol can appear to be more beneficial than facing reality. We need to convince our loved ones that reality offers more benefits than the temporary euphoria offered by artificial substances. Love is a positive motivating factor for change, while negative emotions, such as embarrassment, loss, or causing pain to the people we love, can make us fear the consequences of staying the same.
Before change can be effective, people need to admit they need help and they need to understand that a problem exists. Unfortunately, many people need to hit rock bottom before they can change. However, even when confronted with extreme negativity, a loss of self-confidence or self-worth can lead to a continuation of the problem. On the other hand, increased confidence, patience, restraint and control ensure that a person in an unbearable situation can evolve.
Another problem is that people who are paths to destruction feel that they are victims of external circumstances. They attempt to cure the short-term symptoms without focusing on solving the long-term problem. Indulging in pleasure appeases our mood for a period of time but eventually we have to face the underlying problem. We are never victims – we can simply choose to view ourselves as victims. We may not believe we have control over adversity, but we do. We can blame our parents, our upbringing, bad luck, our bosses, society, or other people, but we are the ones who make all the decisions. We need to face our problems honestly without the rationalizations we use to justify our actions. By training the mind, we have control over anything. We just need to be brave enough to resist temptations that impede our progress.
Parental influences can be used to rationalize an inability to change. For most of our lives, we watched and emulated our parents’ behavior. Since we usually respect our parents, we may believe that their behavior is admirable, even if the behavior is negative. Many people find that they become similar to their parents. Is this just a coincidence? When we view behavior traits over a long period of time, it is easier to adopt these characteristics, rather than doing the hard work that is necessary to discover who we really want to be. If our parents argued our entire lives, we may find that it is easy to be argumentative. Arguing seems natural to us. It takes great energy to overcome the resistance of emulating our parents. Furthermore, some of the behavior traits have a genetic influence (like alcoholism) so even though we hate the behavior in our parents, we can still repeat it. Later in life when we realize the behavior is negative, an easy excuse is that we learned or inherited the behavior from our parents. They become a rationalized excuse for our own negativity. Scott Peck explains, “When we are young, our dependency on those who raise us shapes our thinking and what we learn. And given our lengthy dependence, we are at risk of developing thinking patterns that may become ingrained, even seemingly irreversible.” Yet, we are not our parents and their influences can be overcome. We consciously choose our behaviors. If we know that we do not want to become our parents, we just have to have the strength of character that is needed to change.
Someone once told me that we have no control over our emotions – instead, he believed that our emotions control us. In his mind, love, hate, anger and impatience are emotions that choose us without any cognitive decision on our part. The Dalai Lama strongly disagrees with this philosophy. In Ethics for the New Millennium, he stated, “Emotion and consciousness are not the same thing… we do not have to be controlled by emotions. Prior to our every action, there must be a mental and emotional event to which we are more or less free to respond, although, needless to say, until we have learned to discipline our mind, we will have difficulty in exercising this freedom.”
If we give power to our emotions without expressing restraint and control, we will suffer. Our primary desires are to obtain happiness and reduce suffering. We can never be happy if we live under the control of someone or something that appears to dictate our behavior. We need to be free to pursue happiness. Relinquishing control to external influences leads to suffering because it appears that “uncontrollable” factors have more power than we do.
We are the masters of our lives. We can choose to allow change to control us or we can go with the flow of change while maintaining control over our actions, beliefs, thoughts and feelings. We can survive the constant effect of change. The changes in life can immobilize us out of fear or we can use the changes to bring about positive results. Change is not necessarily bad; it only creates an environment that is different from what we are currently experiencing.
Changes offer us opportunities to evolve. If everything stayed the same, life would be extremely boring. We may feel safer and more secure without change but we would never learn and grow. Adversity builds character and change allows us to evaluate our priorities and to understand what is important to us.
We can view change as a gift instead of a punishment. Sometimes we need change to force us to move in a positive direction. The initial changes may be painful but the long-term benefits are invaluable. Life is constantly changing. Rather than fighting change, we need to embrace it and we need to use it as an opportunity for growth.