Even when the benefits of changing are indisputable, we are geniuses at inventing reasons to avoid change. That genius becomes more acute when it applies to us. We fall back on beliefs that trigger denial and, ultimately, self-delusion. What should we call the rationalizations? Mere “excuse” is inadequate. I call them belief triggers.
I have willpower and won’t give in to temptation.
We deify willpower and mock its absence. People who achieve through remarkable willpower are “strong” and “heroic.” People who need help or structure are “weak.” This is crazy because few of us can gauge willpower.
Today is a special day.
When we want to make an excuse for errant behavior, any day can be designated as a “special day.” We yield to impulse and short-term gratification because today is the Super Bowl, or my birthday, or our anniversary. Tomorrow is back to normal.
“At least I’m better than …”
In a down moment after failure or loss, we tell ourselves, “At least I’m better than so-and-so.” We award ourselves a free pass because we’re not the worst in the world. This is our excuse to take it easy, lowering the bar on our motivation and discipline.
I shouldn’t need help and structure.
One of our most dysfunctional beliefs is our contempt for simplicity and structure. This is a natural response that combines three competing impulses: our contempt for simplicity, our contempt for instruction and follow-up, and our faith that we can succeed all by ourselves.
I won’t get tired; my enthusiasm will not fade.
When we plan to achieve our goals, we believe that our energy will not flag. We seldom recognize that self-control is a limited resource. As we become tired, our self-control begins to waver and may eventually disappear.
I have all the time in the world.
Here are two opposing beliefs that we mash into one warped view: We chronically underestimate the time it takes to do something; we believe that time is open-ended and spacious.
I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur.
When we make plans, we seldom consider distractions. We plan as if we’re going to live in a perfect world and be left alone to focus.
An epiphany will suddenly change my life.
An epiphany implies that change can arise out of a sudden insight. I’m skeptical of any “instant conversion experience.” It might produce change in the short run, but nothing meaningful because the process is based on impulse.
My change will be permanent.
The Great Western Disease is “I’ll be happy when …” This is our belief that happiness is a static goal, within our grasp when we get that promotion or buy that house. Is it any wonder that we casually assume any positive change we make will change us forever?
My elimination of old problems will not bring on new problems.
Even if we appreciate that no change will provide a permanent solution, we forget that as we usher out an old problem a new problem enters.
My efforts will be fairly rewarded.
We are raised to believe life is fair. Our noble efforts will be rewarded. When I coach leaders, I insist that they pursue change because they believe that it’s right. It will help them become a better person — and by extension, improve the lives of the people around them.
No one pays attention to me.
We believe that we can lapse back into bad behavior because people aren’t paying attention. While our improvement may not be as obvious to others as it is to us, when we revert to our previous behavior, people notice.
If I change, I am “inauthentic.”
Many of us have a misguided belief that how we behave today not only defines us but also represents our constant selves. If we change, we’re not being true to who we really are.
In the end, all these rationalizations still don’t completely answer the larger question: Why don’t we become the person we want to be? I’ll explain why in the October issue.