Have you ever felt an overly enthusiastic urge to share your newfound health knowledge with the rest of the world? Or share your personal plan of how you overcame an addiction or lost twenty pounds or reversed your own chronic health challenge? Maybe you haven’t gotten to the point of sharing it with everybody but certainly you’ve shared it with your family and friends. They’re pretty much a guaranteed audience, right? And they all likely need to change on some level. Now you are left wondering where your invite went to the family dinner next week.
At a recent workshop I was reminded of this common desire amongst those passionate about improving their health. Especially in the early stages of their transition. Armed with a set of tools and a healthy dose of commitment, they often inquire as to how they can influence others to do the same. They usually have someone in particular that really needs their help. An overweight mother that eats too much pasta, a sister that drinks too much on the weekends or an uncle that has just been diagnosed with heart disease.They are concerned, based on past performance, about the level of commitment this relative may have to changing their behavior. How can they get them to commit to doing better?
Firstly, I think everyone wakes up committed to doing better. To try harder. To eat well and take care of themselves. To take better care of their families. Then they get out of bed. And as each moment of the day progresses and life unfolds, as it does in accordance with its own rules (rather than yours) the motivation towards fulfillment of said commitment wanes.
The degree of readiness to change varies amongst individuals yet one thing is a constant. A universal law. Human beings are wired from birth for growth and transformation. To move from one developmental stage to another is a series of stepping stones from birth to death. Every moment of your life here on earth is governed by a developmental phase from which you are meant to graduate from.
So why do some people struggle more than others in the degree of commitment or at least the readiness or motivation to grow or change? Despite all of the hard evidence that you so glowingly provide to your beloveds something else bigger and more powerful than knowledge prevails. Another universal law that applies to all of us mere mortals. Resistance.
Resistance will stand like a force of nature between the life we are living and the unlived life within us. Resistance to change, resistance to discomfort, resistance to the unknown. Everyone that has a body faces some form of resistance. No one is exempt. This resistance represents an accumulation of pain that we wish to keep from experiencing, from feeling, as we believe that it will take over and ruin us. We adopt this resistance as a method of defense. A survival strategy that arises in childhood as we go through the arduous journey of embracing an autonomous life out from under our caregivers. Resistance is fueled by a paralyzing fear that may be so great in some people that they aren’t even aware that it is there.
I don’t believe anyone wishes upon themselves excess weight, chronic disease, heartache, addiction or depression. But the road to recovery from these conditions requires navigation through the layers of resistance that build up over the course of a lifetime. Not through motivation or discipline, but through a conscious awareness, insight and a workable vision for the future. And certainly not by being made to feel inferior or morally inept. Or that if they don’t change they are somehow unacceptable, especially to their loved ones.
Commitment requires a degree of consciousness that some people may find too painful, too difficult to accept and/or live with. Facing your demons is a journey that not everyone wants to be on. The safety net of the “way they have learned to do life” is what works for them. Whether or not it is the “best” way according to someone else’s standard may not factor into their decision-making.
The best we can do is offer them some inroads, and a willingness to meet them at whatever point they are in their own journey. To offer them an unconditional vow of acceptance regardless of what they choose to do or not do. I don’t know about you but my rebellious side rears up when someone presents their expert advice on how I should go about living. That is the strong psychological need, that lives in each one of us, for autonomy.
It is this part of our human nature that you could use however as an impetus for change. Maybe they need a better reason to operate from than the current model that is keeping them stuck where they are. If you want to help someone face the resistance that lies ahead show them a vision that gives them some sliver of hope for a compelling future.
In my experience, the need for autonomy may be the one that keeps them bucking in the first place. Rather than having someone picture themselves looking a certain way, or owning a fancy car or home, or living to be 105, ask them to contemplate how wonderful it would be to remain in control of their health, have the ability to live on their own, continue to make their own decisions and enjoy a quality of life that extends as long as possible.
People tend to hold onto an unconscious belief that they should just enjoy their time here on earth and that everybody is going to die someday so why should they change. While that is true, the piece that remains unconscious is the state upon which they may spend their finals days here on earth. I rationalized that time and time again myself until my blood pressure refused to cooperate and I was faced with a decision.
Chronic disease is an accumulation of lifestyle choices and progresses over the course of years not days. Unfortunately, you are not likely to just go to sleep one evening, dressed in your favorite pajamas, never to wake up (which is how most people, when asked, will describe their ideal way of passing). Chronic disease may lead to a slow, insidious death over a period of time that can span up to 20 years. That span of life may include a progressive decline in quality of life while experiencing a marked increase in medical intervention including prescription drugs, limited mobility, frequent doctor and hospital visits.
And a major loss of autonomy. This would be reason enough for me to go a few rounds with the resistance that keeps me from my independence, but that may not hold the same power for someone else. It takes an act of will to turn the light switch on (and keep it on).
While the unwillingness to change comes from a lifetime of reasons, it may take only one spark to ignite a desire to shift gears. Is that worth pursuing? Check in with your own state of affairs first. To wield any type of influence over another should first be marked with your own sense of agency. Are you modeling the behavior that you wish to see in the person you are counselling or hoping will make changes?
You can assess a person’s degree of resistance when they see you making your own headway and attempt to recruit you back over to the “other side”. Your growth and transformation may serve as an unwelcome reminder of their own shortcomings however that still doesn’t serve as a green light for you to think you have to “pull them over the wall”. The best you can do as a fellow human being is to set an example and inspire rather than recruit.
Doing your own work guarantees your right as a free individual. You cannot earn that for others. Freedom, while many claim to seek it, comes at a cost. You must be willing to work towards your own self mastery if you don’t wish to succumb to the control of others (and you will still wake up with resistance threatening to take you out at your knees). Do your best to deal with that and leave the others alone to watch from a distance and hopefully be inspired. Share with them, wholeheartedly, your knowledge when solicited and infuse it with the passion only experience can dictate. Love them unconditionally for who they wish to be at any moment, under any circumstance. Cease clinging to the belief that you need to save them or the world. Keep saving yourself and the world will prosper.