There are a million and one practical reasons you might not be making much progress on achieving your dreams -- from lack of money or time, to family responsibilities, or even health concerns. But according to the authors of a new book, whatever the outward reasons you're not getting ahead, at the base of things you're probably suffering from just one of three problems.
The book, called Changing to Thrive, is by psychologist and founder of the Cancer Prevention Research Center James Prochaska and Janice Prochaska, CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems. As both authors are experts on change for better health, that's the main focus on the book, but the insights are relevant for whatever positive shift you hope to make in your life.
Your main problem is psychology, not logistics.
As a recent Greater Good Science Center write-up of the book explains, the Prochaskas central contention is that it's psychology, not logistics, that really makes changing your life so hard. Greater Good's Jill Suttie notes that these emotional barriers to healthy change generally fall into three categories: People, she writes, either,
- Don't know how change works, assuming that it's an all-or-none process that isn't incremental and doesn't involve setbacks;
- Are demoralized, often because of repeated failures that make them feel stuck, or
- Are too busy defending their behavior, by denying it's a problem, rationalizing, withdrawing into a protective stance, or lashing out at others.
Sound familiar? While these three issues are, of course, common with life changes like weight loss or quitting smoking, I'm sure we've all met someone whose business is failing, for instance, and instead of making the necessary changes, busily defends the status quo, as in situation 3. Or someone who is dreaming of quitting their job to go out on their own but is paralyzed by the enormity of change, as in situation 1.
Overcoming emotional barriers
How do you overcome these barriers? That's the subject of the lion's share of the Greater Good post, which is worth a read in its entirety, but the Prochaskas' recommendations boil down to being a bit kinder to the person hoping to change, whether that's yourself or someone else.
Berating people or "getting tough" simply doesn't work, according to research. What does seem to help is teaching people that setbacks, fear, and uncertainty about your choices are all a perfectly normal part of making any change in your life. Feeling good about yourself, it appears, is a much better route to achieving your aims than cracking down on your perceived inadequacies.
That's why the authors recommend those trying to change their lives try research-based practices to increase their positivity like meditation, seeking out occasions to feel awe, practicing gratitude, and finding creative hobbies that give meaning to life.