There’s a big difference between having the DESIRE to change and the WILLINGNESS to change.
You might have heard the joke, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?”
The answer: “Only one…but the light bulb has to WANT to change.”
This old, corny joke makes a valid point: people rarely change, at least on purpose, unless they want to. The DESIRE to change certainly is a necessary component if real life change is what you’re after.
The desire to change is necessary…but not sufficient.
We can DESIRE a change all day.
The world is FULL of people who DESIRE change, on all levels: individual, institutional, political, global.
Peoples’ track record, however, on their actual WILLINGNESS to change is less impressive.
Many people DESIRE change in their lives and the lives of others…but when it comes to their own WILLINGNESS to change? Well, truthfully, they’d prefer that the world, including other people, would change around them, thank you very much.
They see no particular reason THEY should need to change.
Unfortunately, it turns out the desire to change isn’t worth much without the willingness to change.
Someone might desire to quit smoking. But are they willing to endure the discomfort that comes when it’s a time of day they’d normally light up, and their once-beloved habit isn’t there for them?
(I have a consultation client who is going on a month smoke-free, so I know for a fact that it is POSSIBLE to endure those times…but how many of the thousands of people who attempt to quit smoking every year don’t think that far ahead, and collapse when things get stressful?)
Someone might desire to be less depressed. But are they willing to track their thoughts, talk back to their cognitive distortions, and get out and do things even when all they want to do is sleep or engage in isolative, comfort-seeking behaviors?
Someone might desire to get out of a relationship that isn’t working for them. But are they willing to endure the unhappiness of their partner when they attempt to end it, or the loneliness and boredom that breakups often entail, or the self-doubt that comes with wondering if they made the right decision?
The distinction between desire and willingness is not trivial.
One isn’t much help without the other.
The good news is, if we have the desire to make a change, we can actively work on becoming more willing to change.
All it really takes a is a little thinking ahead.
When you have a change in front of you, ask yourself: what are the piece-by-piece component steps I’d need to realistically take if I was really going to make this change?
Again: that might sound like an obvious question, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to ask it. They just start with the goal they’d like to attain, and take a “eh, I’ll figure it out” approach to its actual accomplishment.
(This is where I, as a therapist and/or a life coach, can be a real pain in the ass: I am an absolute hard-ass when it comes to forming practical, on the ground, day by day plans to actually ACHIEVE our goals.)
Then, when you’ve gotten clear on the action plan that is likely necessary in order to achieve your goals, ask yourself: of these steps, which of them strike me as particularly difficult?
Really consider this question. The temptation here is to be kind of macho— “I’m perfectly willing and capable of overcoming any obstacle in my way”— but none of us are particularly macho when we run face-first into practical obstacles to our goals.
There may even be steps to your goals you’ve identified that you don’t WANT to admit might be difficult for you— but which, if you’re being honest, you KNOW won’t be easy.
Then, one by one, imagine yourself successfully handling each obstacle— bit by bit, piece by piece, obstacle by obstacle. Imagine it in as practical, realistic, on the ground a way as your brain can muster.
Visualizing yourself not only achieving your goal in the end, but overcoming the practical obstacles en route to that goal, can be the key to taking your DESIRE to change and converting it into the practical, everyday WILLINGNESS to change.
Thinking one or two steps ahead, and using the skill of visualization to amp up their WILLINGNESS, are steps many aspiring goal-seekers don’t think to do.
So check it out: you’re already ahead of the game.
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