Inertia - Nº128
To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath (…) I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good “I” who is going to improve the bad “me.” “I,” who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward “me,” and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently “I” will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make “me” behave so badly.
Now that we’re through the second half of the year, and autumn is looming, you may be in the midst of evaluating how the goals you committed to are going. Most of us started the year having identified what we wanted to change, established a few goals for it, and actioned the first steps to align with that change. Whether it’s actioning a new routine, looking for a new job, or simply journalling for the first time. But we all also know how many tend to people to falter by this point.
Why is lasting change so difficult to keep?
Cultivating lasting change—within ourselves, our communities, our families, or businesses—starts with a vision, a goal, and a plan. But people rarely pay attention to the often invisible and internal inhibitor of change: resistance.
Lasting change doesn’t happen without acceptance and repetition; reaching a state where we can unlearn the notions governing our character, no longer defining ourselves through baseless tests—or other people. To understand it better, I read up about Kurt Lewin, the father of modern social psychology and change theory. Starting with his theory of behaviour, he determined that human behaviour is a function if an individual’s psychological environment. In order to change, the “driving forces” must be greater than “restraining forces”, also known as force field analysis.
These theories are ideas I had internalised for years. People only change when the forces are strong enough. When the pain of staying the same becomes to great. Lewin established that “driving forces” are pro-change energies which move you towards the state you want. They don’t have to be positive, but tend to be. Such as a vision or story that inspires you, a raise at work, or pressure from your boss. Conversely, restraining forces are, you guessed it, anti-change. They’re more likely to be negative, such as an unwillingness to take risks, fear of uncertainty, and conforming to a way of life you may not agree with.
In other words, driving forces promote change, while restraining forces promote the status quo.
An equation was developed later by numerous sources:
(Vision x dissatisfaction) + first steps > resistance = change
It states that three conditions must be present our overcome the natural resistance to change. If you are unhappy with the status quo, have a compelling vision for your future, and make practical and concrete first steps, you’ll ideally create momentum. And that’s what conquering inertia is about.
Don’t ignore the obstacles that impede you
Having a strategy for change can be highly motivating, almost gratifying, but thinking about the ways we may fail or hold ourselves back can quickly be deflating. It’s easy to overlook the things that might stand in our way. Usually it’s because it affects us unconsciously, we’re unwilling to look—or we don’t know how.
We follow patterns, and the typical pattern results in concluding it is easier to remain comfortable than journey into the unknown.
Human behaviour can’t be deduced into a linear equation. We’re highly complex beings moving through a highly complex and independent world. Trying to fit everything into a neat equation is reductionist and rarely works. We’re always changing and often moving along with the flow of the environment around us.
Change is and always has been a non-linear experience. We all experience strong starts and setbacks and disappointments and triumphs and more setbacks. We’re constantly influenced by the inner experience, as well as external forces, and our way of responding shape our context and understanding of the world. This is life.
It is as messy and perfectly imperfect as we are.
It is wise to believe we must understand and respect the parts of us that resist change as much as the other elements on the other side of the equation. Motivation is not enough; we can’t move on if we still reject or ignore parts of ourselves. We most be more loving than that.
Bridging the gap between the life we live and the life we want requires understanding what’s holding us back and what we’re afraid of. I want to own a business of one at some point, but my resistance is the fear of failure and wasting time. However, I know no one is immune to resistance like this, we all face it. The important step is to make sense of it, know how to overcome it and make meaningful progress rather than saying “here we go again” and resorting to familiar patterns and results.
Confronting fears that make us feel uncomfortable and uncertain can provide insight into ourselves and what’s driving our fear and resistance. Two questions come to mind:
What am I afraid of happening?
What’s the risk if I change?
We tend to have underlying fears that stop us from changing. And we tend to overthink and overestimate the consequences. But in this part of 2023, it’s time to focus on tuning on the parts of us that resist change, so we can spend time getting to know them. Understand what they want, what they’re afraid of, or what they are protecting. Clarity over this helps us access what Richard Schwartz calls the Self. From there, we can learn how to call specific parts of ourselves forward and get others to step back. We can resolve internal conflicts, and repurpose parts of ourselves for different roles. Everything can gain compassion, and we ultimately learn to honour all parts that lead us towards the life we want.
Knowing our resistors is profound, because we can better integrate parts of ourselves we switched off for decades. When we do this, we become more of ourselves, and understand why the key to improvement is acceptance.