When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and some people build windmills.
I'm kicking off a month-long discussion on habits with this Chinese proverb. Change is so hard. It's hard to conceptualize, it's hard to accept, it's hard to implement, and it's hard to enforce/reinforce. Even when we want to.
Forget about when we don't want to. My thoughts are if you don't want to change something, then there really is no need to give up your energy for it. You have to have a motive- internal or external. Internal is better and more powerful, but something has to be there to get the ball rolling. External motivation is fine, but I want to clarify what I mean is that an external force should make you feel compelled, not fearful.
I think the first big step when thinking about change is to determine whether it's right for you. Do you want to change at all? Not should you change, or could you change, or would you change if... Do you want to change? I love that Chinese proverb, and my interpretation of it is not that building walls is bad and building windmills is good. My interpretation is that any individual can choose any of those reactions because above all, they need to honor who they are, where they are in their own journey, and be authentic.
For example, diet soda has been demonized all over the internet via medical articles, lifestyle pieces, wellness blogs, etc. I agree with all of the studies out there that there are a lot of negative consequences to drinking diet soda. I don't drink it myself. However, I know so many people who struggle to give it up. For some, it's used as a zero calorie alternative to full calorie regular soda. For some, it's used as a diversion from eating a whole cake or smoking a cigarette or binging on alcohol. So, if you step back from how bad it is for you, and assess the relative impact to these other alternatives, diet soda is not the end of the world.
All of that to say, the decisions one makes to implement or not implement change regardless of the information available is a personal decision. Life isn't perfect, choosing diet soda over smoking cigarettes is a B+ moment for someone. They would choose to build a wall in the face of this contradictory information that diet soda is terrible for you. And that's 100% OK. You do you. Maybe one day there will be some other compelling reason to call into question the need for diet soda and change can be implemented once that desire exists. If it doesn't you're wasting your precious energy.
If you get past that first gate of confirming your truth, that you do, in fact, want to do what it takes to create change, then the second step is to identify why you want to make a change. It's really important to understand whether your motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic because that can affect the longevity of your commitment. An example of intrinsic motivation to quit drinking diet soda would be that you identified that drinking diet soda makes you feel terrible and you don't want to feel that way anymore. You're making a change that originates with your own personal beliefs. An example of extrinsic motivation is being told about research on the negative effects of soda by a friend who is quitting and wants you to quit with them. You're making a change that originates with someone else's beliefs.
I think change can occur in either situation, primarily because many successful changes made due to external motivation have evolved over time to become internal. You've agreed to support your friend in their endeavor, you are accountable to one another, and you've noticed the benefits of the change and now agree that it is a good thing for yourself. Ultimately, all change that is sustainable has to end up becoming intrinsic. But, how it starts can be in a variety of ways and there's no judgment on how it happens. I know literally hundreds of people who have embraced exercise because they went with a friend to a group fitness class. One time! I love it.
Change cannot come from a place of judgment - how it starts or how it ends is an individual's own journey. Change must come from a place of vulnerability- internally or externally- moving out of your comfort zone into the unknown. You can build a wall or a windmill. Neither option is universally the correct choice.