Motivating Yourself to Change
I Don’t Like This About Me.
I Want to Be Different.
If you did the previous exercise, you have your list of things you don’t like about yourself. I’m guessing you’d like to change those things. Let’s first take a look at one fairly common method for social change to better understand the process you have been using on yourself.
Think about something in your life you accept and have no negative judgments about one way or the other. Let’s say for example you accept that your kids have to be at school by 8:00 am. This means you acknowledge, consent, and agree with this time. It is in your “acceptable zone” and you have no desire for it to be any different. (Accept maybe when you’re running late.)
But if you thought this was a bad time for school to start, you would want it to change it, right? The start time would move into your “unacceptable zone.” If you really hated the start time, you might get upset and start complaining about it. You type-A personalities might even take steps to petition others to get the time changed. Social change takes place when enough people are unhappy with the status quo.
So it would seem to reason that in order for you to change something about yourself you would first need to reject it and be unhappy about it. But does this method work in our own personal development? Does becoming unhappy with some aspect of ourselves motivate us to change?
There are many tactics to use. You have probably tried using guilt trips and feeling shame about your behavior. Or maybe you have told yourself “I should exercise more. I should call my mother. I should, should, should,” then feeling bad about not doing any of those things you “should.” We can pull out some pretty big guns to try and get ourselves to be different. Sometimes it works for a while but not without some serious side effects.*
So why doesn’t this strategy work the same way when we want to change ourselves?
Why Self-Rejection Fails as a Vehicle for Personal Change
We loath what we see in the mirror, berate ourselves for mistakes and feel guilty about behaviors all with the hope the pain will motivate us to change. It works exactly counter to what you want. Here’s why.
Not accepting who you are hurts. The torment you put yourself through by disliking or even hating yourself is very draining not only on the body, but on the mind. When you feel bad about who you are, the mental energy that might have been used to make improvements is used to deal with your internal discomfort. Whether it’s that sharp, gut-wrenching pain of direct confrontation or the dull-ache of long-standing, self-inflicted verbal abuse, the last thing you end up wanting to do is work on becoming the best version of yourself. It can be a vicious cycle of suffering with no way out.
Pain Leads to Avoidance Tactics:
One of the biggest reasons lack of self-acceptance doesn’t work is because of a very human tendency to push away from pain. It hurts every time you think about the issue so you end up not wanting to look at your problems too closely. Like the flame of a blow torch you have learned not to get too close. You find other ways to cope with the pain. You tell yourself you’ll get around to it someday. Unfortunately, someday never comes and it continues to rear its ugly head over and over again. What you resist; persists.
When you use pain to change, the results are temporary because you haven’t actually changed anything. There are reasons for everything you do. If you don’t know or understand those reasons, nothing will change. You may be able to modify some behavior for a while, but no one can sustain the beatings for very long. As soon as you ease up on yourself, you revert right back to the previous unwanted behavior. You see this again and again with women on a diet, exercise program, or when trying to change an addiction.
If being unhappy with yourself doesn’t work, what other options do you have?