Tuesday, November 17, 2009


On his blog The Someday Syndrome, Alex Fayle writes that the three things preventing us from reaching our goals are disinterest, inertia and fear.  To my mind, these are three increasingly pervasive levels of resisting change, since typically when we say we want to do something it's about changing ourselves: we want to be in better shape, save money, get a better job, move to our dream city. 

Disinterest is when we say we'd like to do something because we think others want to hear it.  We're going to apply to MBA school, maybe go after that promotion, start dating online.  When our heart isn't in it, we are just not going to do it. 

A journey of a thousand steps begins with one.  This is usually directed to people as an affirmation, but the truth is that the path of change is long and tedious. Overcoming inertia and altering one's lifestyle as far as, say. eating and spending (the things the vast majority of people say they want to change) means saying no to lots of little things every day. As any parent knows, it feels better to say yes than no.  But do it too often, and those affirmative answers will come back to bite you.

So inertia applies to routine things that are just unpleasant, which is of course subjective.  When I don't feel like cleaning out that closet or filling out any form or unloading the dishwasher--no idea why, but it's a task I put off routinely--I try to remind myself that I'll get rid of that nagging feeling and enjoy a brief moment of satisfaction.  Sometimes it works, but usually it's a deadline or the imminent arrival of houseguests that lights a fire under me.

Fear is the most resistant because it's what we're least likely to acknowledge.  People who've lost large amounts of weight and keep it off frequently say that they've only kept it off as a result of cognitive therapy, since the change in the way others react to them is a shock. They've always been the overweight, funny best friend, for example, rather than the hot guy.  When a guy like this meets a woman he likes, he might have a hard time understanding why she might want to date him, because his perception of himself is rooted in who he's always been, in his mind, rather than the new person he's become.  Sometimes that's so scary he just heads back to food, which not only comforts him but takes him back to his comfort zone of being the fat guy. (And yes, she should see his inner beauty, but the world is what it is.)  He knows being fit is better for his health and energy, but it's easier to go back to his old habits. Change means having the strength to move past perceptions of ourselves that prevent us from becoming who we dream of being.

Growth hurts and it's scary as hell.  That's why we talk about how we want to move to Paris or become a novelist or get rid of personal debt rather than just finding a practical way to do it. Twelve years ago, I got on a plane and moved to a new country, because I'd wanted to for a long time and the opportunity arose. A friend who'd already done it told me it would take two years to adjust, and she was right, not only about a big move but about any major life change.  Being in a completely new place means you lose your bearings.  Nobody knows your name or cares how they do things where you've come from, so don't bother telling them about it.  You need directions to the grocery store, or even the bathroom.  Often you feel very, very alone.  But that also means when you get there, you own it. As that same friend told me, "It's so hard and it takes a long time, but then you look back and you don't even know who that scared person was, because you've changed so much and you're proud you did what you said you were going to do."


  1. Love your post. I totally agree with your thinking about those categories. I think most of my goals fall into the fear category.
    Sometimes I find it hard to believe I did what I did to change who I am today, and when my daughter makes a comment that "You are just like that song Mom: I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T!" I have to readjust my thinking because I thought I was just surviving.

  2. Too true. Your children see how you've evolved (or not) and will always tell you!