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Why forcing yourself to change will never work.

“Force only causes resistance.” That quote is a bit of worldly wisdom espoused in the Tao Te Ching, circa 6th century BC. ┬áSeriously old-school, calligraphic proof that some things never change.

The ineffectiveness of force as a means for change is something mankind conveniently forgets on the regular. Hell, force is kinda how we’ve always operated, from forcing beliefs on other cultures to forcing people off their land to forcing men into the military.

But force is not a change agent.

Force does not, will not, cannot lead to lasting change. Temporary change, perhaps, but what’s the point in that? Temporary change is a teaser, a misnomer, a lie.

I’ve seen this time and time again in my own life. When I’ve tried to force myself to change — abandon a bad habit, pick up a new skill, behave differently — it’s never, ever worked. Instead, it’s left me with thinly-veiled feelings of resentment and blatantly obvious self-destructive tendencies.

It wasn’t until I stopped all attempts at force that things actually changed. And then, everything changed. For the better.

For years I bemoaned my many persistent issues — from my problems with food to my depression to my partying. Over and over again I’d tell myself I HAD to change, I NEEDED to change, I MUST change. But as soon as I attempted to push the issues away via various well-intentioned strategies, they came back with a vengeance: a renegade boomerang headed straight for my face.

Eventually, change started to come naturally. That doesn’t mean it came without effort, but that does mean the effort felt organic, healthy and innate. Force and effort are two very different concepts.

Here’s the problem. Force, by its very nature, involves physical power. But physical power doesn’t instigate change. True change is wayyyyyy deeper than any external influence. And if that inner willingness isn’t in place, the physical power part will eventually fail. Miserably.

Take evolution. Humans didn’t come into existence by an overseer forcing our ape ancestors to walk upright. Plus, those brawny gents probably wouldn’t have taken that too well. Instead, it came about through a natural process of gradual development that took millions of years. Maybe not the instant gratification we’re all used to, but highly effective in the end.

The same goes for our modern concerns. The most successful products, businesses and careers are those that hit the right notes — they’re not forced or contrived. They unfurl like flowers. That’s why people striving desperately to make relationships or jobs or situations work are almost never successful. Desperation is a precursor to force.

We don’t force puppies to grow into dogs or force butterflies from their cocoons. It just happens, naturally. As it’s meant to. And if it doesn’t happen, it probably wasn’t meant to. In those cases, another path awaits.

Take me with drinking, for instance. I stopped drinking almost six months ago because (wait for it) I just didn’t feel like it anymore. That sea change followed years of nasty internal dialogue and attempts at reformation. I should stop the partying, cut back on the boozing, quit being such an ass, yadda yadda. I tried to force myself to change many, many, many times, to no avail. But in the end, there was no forcible sobriety or 12-step program (editor’s note: I wasn’t an alcoholic, just a party girl) — I just stopped. Because I wanted to and it felt right.

Exercise is another example. For years I tried to force myself to work out consistently, but was always on and off the bandwagon, even when I was a personal trainer. I resented the idea of working out because I HAD to — because I should be skinnier or healthier or whatever society was drilling into my pop culture-addled brain. It wasn’t until I really wanted to exercise for my own well-being that it stuck. It’s an integral part of my life these days and has been for a couple years. But only because I wanted it to be. (And because I engage in exercise that feels natural to me — no boot camps or marathons for this girl.)

You have to want to change, both consciously, and more elusively, unconsciously. When the stars align, it’ll happen without hemming and hawing and relapses and passive aggressiveness. Action will generally be required, but the steps you take will feel inspired — not begrudging.

Unfortunately, our society is all about “whipping into shape” — be it bodies, work performance or attitude. If something doesn’t meet our standards, we attempt to force it into compliance. Take the way we approach weight issues — deprivation and excessive exercise. That’s the very definition of force, and it’s not sustainable. Hence why 90% of people who lose weight end up gaining it back. Weight issues are largely mental, and you can’t force a psychological paradigm shift overnight. Self-acceptance and self-compassion are far more effective at solving weight problems in the long-term.

The bottom line is, lasting change can’t be forced, rushed or sped up. It comes at its own time, which is insanely hard for us to accept ‘cuz, y’know, we’re total control freaks. The truth is, things unfold organically as they’re meant to and force is irrelevant and unnecessary. So stop it already.

Change that lasts is the only worthwhile kind, so I think it’s worth the wait.

 

 

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