The slippery quality of change: can we ever make it stick?

I was talking to a friend over the weekend and we were lamenting how hard it is to stay in the mindset of a shift we’d like to make.

We’d read all the books, listened to all the podcasts, made some good progress, but when we stopped paying attention and let go of the external motivation, old habits crept back in and before we knew it, we felt like we were back where we started.

For my friend, it’s minimalism she’s aiming for.  For me it’s been many things over the years, but the main area I’d like to change right now is to write more!

I can read books about writing, attend events that get me enthused, go through a real spate of creativity where ideas are flying everywhere and I’m writing, writing, writing…but then life gets in the way.  I miss a day, then another, the ideas dry up then I fall back into a rut where I barely write for a week or two.

I’ve written about this before in my post, habit formation: time, consistency and the fuck it mentality, but the fact that here I am thinking about it again months down the line makes my point: no matter what we know about the steps we need to take to make a change, no change is linear, and the key to any lasting change is realising that it often happens in such incremental steps via such circuitous routes, that we only see its culmination when we look back over the years.

As for the question of when we’ll stop struggling to maintain that change?  I think we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that in some situations the answer may be never. I know it’s not what you want to hear, me neither! But the fact is we may always need to consciously sustain the changes we wish to make, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them.

For my friend and her minimalist aspirations, she’s already making considered choices about what she brings into her home, decluttering where she can and making more conscious choices about what she buys her children.  It’s pretty hard to be minimalist with young children, but if she continues to make small changes, she may be surprised how these add up over time.  I think minimalism as a lifestyle in particular is something that will always need to be consciously cultivated, because it’s so easy to allow unnecessary ‘stuff’ into our lives.

We often want change to be instantaneous, and sometimes an event happens in a person’s life that’s so cataclysmic change is immediate, but more often than not it’s slow and steady, one step forward and two steps back, with a trip or two round the merry-go-round for good measure.

One key ingredient of change that I think many people miss out is its practical application. We can read and research and think something is a great idea, but if we never take any practical steps towards doing that thing, whatever it is, then it remains firmly in the realm of imagination. 

Action, however small, is key to embodying change.

One area of my life where I haven’t embodied a change I aspired to is in the home-schooling of my children.  I listened to all the podcasts, read all the books, made the shift mentally and had some practical experience during lockdown schooling, but ultimately this is a change I’ve aspired to that has stayed firmly in the realm of my imagination, because my children are still in school. I haven’t taken the action necessary to make this change happen, and that’s ok. Some changes we’ve imagined we might never make, but for the ones we feel compelled to embody, we must also be prepared to put in the work to make them stick, even if this work may last forever.

How about you?  Have you had any success with making changes, or are there areas of your life you’d like to change that reside in your imagination for now? 

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10 thoughts on “The slippery quality of change: can we ever make it stick?

  1. I think that perfection is impossible so we’ll always be working on something.. I agree change isn’t linear. I’ve been working on a more minimalist mindset as well and I think evolving and getting better over time is mostly what I’m striving for.

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  2. Have you had any success with making changes, or are there areas of your life you’d like to change that reside in your imagination for now?

    My answer is YES to both of your questions. I’ve made changes to how I think about what I do, that is I am more gentle with myself when I make mistakes. I’d like to make other changes that involve exercise but until my husband retires that’s not going to happen, so I wait.

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  3. This is an important conversation, especially right now. The pandemic shifted everyone’s habits, so many people are struggling to recreate old and new healthy habits. What works for me is doing that heathy think consistently even if, for instance, I don’t have a line or idea to write about. I do it anyway, and sometimes a poem will come, and sometimes not, yet the habit stays. Oh, yes, getting to they gym is not working right now. Habituation uptake is sporadic. Working on it. Great post, Rae. ☺️

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    • That’s so true Jeff, we think of a habit as being constant but actually there’s ebbs and flows in any habit formation, and when we think we’ve got it we still need to work to maintain it.

      I needed to hear what you said about writing. I have a lot of resistance around writing (I could do more but I always seem to be able to find something else to do, I’m working on it!) but you’re right, sitting down to write something even without an idea proves fruitful more often than not, and the more often it bears fruit the more likely I’be to write some more. Great advice, and thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Goodness me, change is definitely not linear. I have yo-yo dieted for many years and thought I had finally cracked maintaining a healthy weight and exercise regime, then Covid hit us…..back to square one now…very overweight, not exercising and a house full of clutter. However, I have managed to stay alcohol free, which is something positive.

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    • I think that accepting change is often circuitous helps when we ‘fall off the wagon,’ we’ve been where we want to go before, so we know we can get back there again, maybe we use some of our old strategies and maybe we find some new ones and with each adaptation perhaps the changes are easier to maintain, but I’m not sure if the holy grail of effortless maintenance exists, I think it’s always going to take work, like I imagine it still takes effort sometimes to refuse a glass of champagne at a special occasion?

      Amazing you’ve stayed alcohol free, especially during the stresses of lockdown, alcohol consumption is an area many people struggle to change.


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