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Changes can be Automatic, But Progress is not

How many times have you committed yourself to make a change? How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in life? How many of them have you fulfilled? Of course. I’d like to speak to you about why you haven’t and why these decisions usually go down the drain and never get realized.

Personal Revelation

I was a smoker. Hold on, this isn’t a typical I-did-it-and-so-can-you speech or you-must-find-the-willpower-within-yourself ramble. I call it a ramble because it actually has nothing to do with your willpower. As I have said, I was a smoker for 5 years, and God knows how many times I tried to quit. I never believed in using supplements that are supposed to help you quit your bad habits, because I understand how product promotion and marketing function – we present you a product and tell you that it’ll enhance the quality of your life when you start using it. However, I simply refuse to believe that, as well as to think that help with dealing with my own demons can come in the form of a pill/gum/patch – in exchange for an X amount of money.

Anyhow, it was December 19th, 2015. I was sitting with some friends at my apartment, we were having fun, drinking wine and, of course, smoking. The room got really foggy at one point, we were all a bit drunk, and that’s when I smoked one cigarette too many. I remember putting it down, leaning back on the couch, feeling heavy in my chest, looking at the pack of Luckies and a full ashtray.

What I then said to myself was: “I don’t want to be a smoker anymore.” And I haven’t smoked since then. However, I was bothered with more questions. Why had I has so much trouble with quitting earlier? How come it was so easy and spontaneous now? What am I missing here? And the answer was right there. I didn’t say to myself that I want to stop smoking, but that I don’t want to be a smoker anymore. It was an identity shift.

Raising Standards Launches Progress

Apparently, making a lasting change is not the same as reaching your goals. But to raise your standards? What does that mean? I made a parallel with that old saying “The doing is often more important than the outcome.” You do get your new standards, even though you don’t always achieve the goals you’ve wanted. At that moment, I raised my standards (unconsciously) and refused to go back.

When I quit smoking, I did make a habit change, but things go deeper, being rooted to a transition in my own identity. We all have an image of ourselves that we believe in, and act consistently with it, because identity is really one of the most powerful forces.

Personal Identity and Progress

However, people sometimes continue believing that the decisions they have made in their youth can still work for them. If you’ve defined your beliefs and recognized your capabilities at 18, you should re-evaluate them at 25 or 31. Otherwise, by continuing to live in accordance with these past decisions, they’ll create an invisible glass ceiling that sets limitations upon you in the now. Among all other living beings on the planet, humans have the highest capacity for adaptation to different conditions. Psychologically, we also adapt to be a certain way in order to have other people’s respect or to succeed. This is, actually, not who we really are, but the mind plays tricks on us and it’s easy to believe it. Remember that YOU are really YOU in situations that are spontaneous. Your spontaneous behavior and the things you do then tell others and yourself who you really are. It is in those moments when we feel the aliveness taking over.

Wishes vs Resolutions

Wishes are your ‘shoulds’ and resolutions are your ‘musts’. A list of shoulds? We all have them. ‘I should stop working so much and spend time with my friends and family more often’, ‘I should stop wasting time on the Internet and be productive’, ‘I should lose these 10 pounds I’ve gained in the past 6 months’, and so on. However, it is not until a wish goes from the ‘should’ list to the ‘must’ list that it will get realized. Otherwise, it’s great if it happens, but you don’t really care if it doesn’t.

The moment in which I couldn’t take any more nicotine was the one in which my wish turned into a strong resolution. I decided that it was a must and that I am the one who has to find or make my own way. That one click in my mind lead to raising my standards, and it didn’t even take any willpower. The ‘click’ was the moment when the resolution got attached to my own identity.

Change vs Progress

Everything changes. Just go to your window and look outside: the street, the people walking there, the vehicles and buildings, they won’t be there in the year 2216, right? Even when we talk about things like relationships, life opportunities, or money – they don’t last. That is why they won’t continue to make you happy and excited, unless you achieve personal growth. What I want to say is that progress is related to fulfillment and happiness. We are destined to change, it is inevitable and can’t be stopped because it is out of our control. On the other hand, if you want to improve, change, expand and do what you said you’d do on New Year’s Eve, you then think about progress, and progress requires effort. Progress adds aliveness to everything, and if it’s not automatic like change, you should realize that it depends on you and no one else.

You want to spend more time with your pack? Show the initiative – clear out your schedule, grab the phone, and arrange a hangout. Want to lose weight? Stop pressuring yourself and thinking that you’re doomed, but find some fitness clothes, and start with your workout. Hate cardio? Not a valid excuse. Yes, it can be boring, but with so many alternatives available, you can no longer use it as a reason to stay glued to the couch. Get up from your computer, grab a piece of paper, make a to-do list of all the stuff you need to finish and the new ideas that you want to make happen.

Hoping that everything will eventually work out for you doesn’t really make sense. Stop thinking like that, make an effort, and look at life from a different perspective. Re-evaluate yourself, make those identity changes, and see for yourself how everything starts to shift.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.