When you embark on a programme of personal change it is easy to lose motivation. Get it in perspective though and you’ll see that setback is just another part of the process of change

Some people are easily discouraged when things don’t go according to plan. This may be one reason that it is so hard to stick to a new regime, like change of diet, healthy exercise or quitting smoking.

Enthusiasm wanes quite naturally with time, and it can seem that despite our efforts and best intentions, ‘things aren’t working’. Whether it is attempting to stop smoking, starting a weight loss programme, breaking free of depression, going to the gym, managing anger or any other regime of personal change, the problem is not starting, it is being able to stick at it.

One of the reasons for this is that people can become discouraged when their initial progress slows down. Things always look and feel most different at the beginning when you launch into a new initiative. With time, and as the new way of doing things becomes more familiar, the initial rush of enthusiasm wanes and we are left with ourselves.

Moving forward

It’s like moving from the classroom to the real world. If you’ve ever become newly qualified at something you’ll know the uncertainty of finding yourself alone on the first day on the job, having previously being surrounded by fellow students and a reassuring tutor while you were studying your subject. Suddenly it’s just you…. but confidence grows and the phase is soon forgotten.

So it is with personal change. We buy the book, talk to the therapist, join a support group (or whatever), and inspired, we commit. At first, all goes well, we notice the changes. Buoyed up by our enthusiasm we don’t need to think much about discipline and willpower.

Then a setback

But then the inevitable happens; a bad day, a little setback, the weight loss slows down, we maybe have a little craving or we miss a gym session. Despondency sets in, we beat ourselves up, we take it as ‘proof’ that the programme isn’t working. “Why would it anyway,” we say to ourselves, “I never manage to stick at it”, etc etc.

This is when you have to remind yourself that any programme of personal change will be marked by what I call ‘Two steps forward, one step back”. The odd hiccup will happen naturally, it’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean failure, and it seems worse than it is. Compared to our initial progress a hesitation seems like a stop, but we are still way ahead of the point we started at, and there’s no need to go back there.

Personal change doesn’t happen in an instant, it is a process. Stick at it, and above all avoid thinking about it, just keep going.

See also

How to Adjust to Change