The Pain of Remaining the Same
Posted on 27th May 2021 at 16:41
We have an amazing ability to cope with pain, whether it's mental or physical. You only have to look at the act of childbirth or battling crippling disease to see how marvellous the human spirit is. It's something to be celebrated.
Unfortunately, this gift is a double-edged sword. It helps us at times but also prevents us from truly fulfilling our potential. What do I mean? The famous quote by Arthur Burt captures it nicely. "Nothing happens until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change."
Basically, humans will endure great physically or mental discomfort before changing. Why? Beacuse we like comfort and what we know is comfortable, even if it is terrible. Some examples:
- Going to a job day after day that makes you miserable or anxious.
- Feeling like your life is on hold but being too scared to take positive steps to change it.
- Working for a tryannical bully who expects you to be on call 24 x 7 and not challenging it, even though it is making you ill.
- Feeling physically unwell due to self-sabotage and lack of self-care.
- Staying with a partner who does not love, respect or value you.
You've heard the expression 'better the devil you know'? That's what we are talking about here.
Would you rather deal with a pain that you know or a pain that you don't know? Change is frightening for most of us. We don't know what we don't know and we are terrfied about that. In our heads, our emotional brains play out all of the things that could go wrong, the damage we might do to ourselves and others. We amplify the feelings associated with change to the point of being paralysed. "At least I know what my current pain is about and I've developed coping strategies to deal with it. I'm managing right?" But at what cost? Your self-esteem? Your mental health? Your happiness? Your quality of life? Your life expectancy? Your relationships?
When we know we need to change but we bury our head in the sand instead this is called 'slow death'. That's what it feels like. You see it in people who only do the job they do because they are waiting for the pension. This 'hanging on' drains their life force and leaves them in a detached state where they are emotionally disconnected with their job - their life.
This term was coined by Robert E Quinn in his book "Deep Change". This was written in the context of organisations but equally applies to individuals who have decided to succumb to their situation. They have resigned themselves to toughing it out and playing the martyr. The quick sand is taking them under and they feel powerless to fight.
So, why don't we change?
In addition to being able to tolerate situations that are far from ideal, there are other aspects of our lives that keep us from making the positive transformations we need to make:
Culture & Expectations - how we were brought up and the 'norms' we experienced as children has a huge bearing on us. I was brought up in a very working class family where going to work after school was the norm. I went out to work at 18 but knew after a couple of years that I could do more and aspired to a different future. When I discussed going to university with my parents, they expressed concern that it was a risk. They valued security and I was presenting a different path - an uncertain one. Many of you will have had upbringings where the family values were clear and to deviate would cause alienation from those you love. Most of us don't want to disapppoint or upset, so carry on regardless of our own well-being.
Peer Pressure - we know that change is needed in our lives and start to take positive steps towards it. Sometimes, those we are close to feel threated by the new you and put pressure on you to revert back to your old ways. Have you ever been on a health kick and done really well? You are looking and feeling better and are in a good place emotionally. Do you ever feel like your friends and family try to derail you? Maybe they were more comfortable with the old you. Maybe you are making them reflect about their own life and the choices they make.
Path of Least Resistance - I've mentioned this before in previous blogs. We will always take the path of least resistance because we want to do what's easy and conserve our energy. Culture, expectations and peer pressure sometimes mean that that path of least resistance is not changing. To change, we'd have to have too many difficult conversations and say "no", when other people want us to say "yes". If you are a people pleaser you will relate to this. You put other's needs before your own and suffer the consequences.
We often change when we don't have a choice and realise afterwards that it was a gift
Over my many years working with organisations to help develop their people I have seen lots of organisational change. I have supported people going through redundancy and the sense of grief, loss and hurt associated with that. Even people who hated their jobs would go through this process. It's not until you meet those same people several months later that they tell you, "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me" or "I needed to leave but would never have done it until I was pushed." It's fascinating to see.
I would like to help you be more procative than that. If you know that you would benefit from change take some time to reflect on these questions:
1) What needs to change? Why?
2) How is my current situation hurting me? What are the long-term impacts?
3) Who else is this hurting?
4) How will this change help me?
5) What scares me about the change?
6) What excites me about the change?
7) What opportunities would it present?
8) What help do I need to get started and who can help me?
Making positive change takes courage and faith. It also requires you to have a good support network to help you on your way. We often want change to be quick and it very rarely is. We have to be patient and take it one step and a time. Are you ready?
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