We can fight it, but we can't always stop it. While some embrace change, others just find simple habits hard to break.
Books, half-day or full-day workshops, week-long retreats, longer-term clinics and regular psychological therapy all compete to help the world-weary human stuck in old patterns that no longer work for them. But how many of them actually work, and how long does real change take?
The myth of 28 days to create a new habit or change no longer applies. When study participants at the University College in London tried to create new habits, the average time to create a new habit was 66 days and some were predicted to take more than 200.
“The time it takes to change will vary, considerably, from person to person and behaviour to behaviour,” says Dr Timothy Sharp, a clinical psychologist and executive coach who also responds to the title of “Chief Happiness Officer” from the Happiness Institute.
“Some changes can be initiated immediately whereas, obviously, others will take time. It depends on what's trying to be changed, sometimes more intensive and longer-term work is needed. But I would never underestimate the impact that a seminar or workshop (or even reading an article in a newspaper) can have.”
Michelle Duval is the author of Coaching Change and the director of business, executive and life coaching company Equilibrio. She believes humans are wired to consistently create new neural pathways.
“We see this in all the things we learn in our development and in our adaptability, and in how brain-damaged people adapt and function,” she says. “Even in difficult life circumstances (such as death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, illness, car accident, etc) we are capable of change, though only when we finally accept the events.
“A change in point of view can happen, yes, in a workshop, as it is possible some deeper changes, too. However, most significant changes need integration over a period of time to develop new neural pathways to form solid habits and new behaviours.
“An essential criteria for change is making a decision to change. Without 'decision', we oscillate wanting to make a change, thinking about making a change, dancing between the 'for' and 'against' of making the change.
“We may even try to make the change, but without making a decision we revert back, we relapse. A definitive decision is needed. Until that decision, we are really only in the contemplative stage of change.”
While major life events can force change, from losing a job to major health crises, the way we approach these external change matters when deciding to change our personal outlook. Cambridge-educated spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, writes consistently about the need for change both within ourselves and the world.
Change is inevitable and as Tolle writes: “Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”
Sharp observes: “In my experience I believe people can always change, if they want to. So if someone's struggling to change it typically means they don't really want to, or their priorities are different - that is, they see other factors as being more important.
“Change will typically come about when we recognise something is not right or problematic, when the advantages or changing outweigh the disadvantages, when we know what to do and have the resources/knowledge to do it and finally when we have support from those around us.”
These factors are key to change, as habitual and addictive behaviour can be very difficult to break, even when we know it no longer benefits us. MIT trained rats to turn left on a T shaped maze by giving them chocolate milk. Then they laced the milk with lithium chloride for light nausea. They still turned left.
Duval says that witnessing others change - under adversity or realising talents - can be the inspiration we need.
“Often the motivation is seeing other people in similar circumstances making a change and realising it is possible for them, so it is for me, too. But in order to change we need to look at why we want to change; what is it we have had enough of, want to get away from, what are the consequences in our life/work/business of the thing we want to change.
“We then need to solidify the change and we do this through awareness and positive validation and reinforcement of the small changes until they start to become solid and independent. We all know this in supporting a child to learn to walk, talk, read, ride a bike, etc. Once the change is working and solid enough, we then step back to refine the change until it reaches the desired result.”
In other words repeat, repeat, repeat. But, as Sharp says, it is important to “focus more on the process and less on the outcome. This increases the chance of success and of enjoying the journey along the way to the destination.”
Fancy a little one-day motivator to encourage change in your life? Sydneysiders can take a day out with life coach Clare Robinson and healer Jaye Carcary at the Bondi Food Collective for the one-day Retreat in the City on May 3 from 8am to 4pm. Expect meditation, raw food and wellness coaching. $115 per person.