How To Make Change Last For Good
So you’ve read many self-help and marital books, scanned through many of the blog posts on this site and you are ready to go. Ready to be a better husband; ready to be a better wife; ready to be a better person. You feel great, confident, and hopeful for the future. Nothing is going to get in your way now. Right?
Here’s the problem.
These positive emotions will soon dissipate, the motivation will fade, sluggishness will want to settle in again, and before you know it, you are right back in the darkness you came from. So, what will you do? You will buy another book, find a different blog site, and listen to a different therapist. Perhaps they will have the answer? And on and on this pattern will go.
Is there any hope? Yes. The hope lies in you slowing down and understanding how personal growth and how a good marriage develops. Your character and your marriage are not going to change overnight, for character and a good marriage is like a good ale, it needs time to brew.
So, here is the first thing you need to understand about personal and marital growth: Expect down times soon and have a plan to combat it.
I’ve seen and experienced this a hundred times. Why do the majority of people fail in fulfilling their New Year resolutions? They start off so gung ho and within a week or a month they have failed. The answer is many of them did not push past the first down time. They get slothful and make excuses why they can’t fulfill their resolutions: ‘I’ve been good, so I desire this’ is the line often heard or said. But if you expect down time and have a plan to combat it, then you are more likely to push past it and on your way to a more fulfilling life and marriage.
This notion of ‘having a plan’ is key to winning in your personal and marriage life. Basically, the idea is all change is easy when you’re motivated and energized; it is difficult every other time. Since you will never see lasting changes in your personal life and your marriage until the changes you want to make are good and settled, it is an imperative you push past these downward times. This is where the plan comes into play, for the plan will give you the way and the incentives to keep moving forward.
Here is an example to explain what the plan is and how it is used:
I really desired to become a more disciplined man. I tired and tried with all my heart to wake up and 6 AM with no avail. I would be able to do it for a few days, but on those mornings I was supper tired, nothing could get me out of bed, or so I thought. Dedicated to change and in a time of desperation, I called a dear friend of mine up and said, ‘If I don’t wake up 4 days of the week at 6 AM, then I owe you $50.’
Guess what, it worked. The days would come when I was supper tired, but the idea of paying $50 for an few more hours of sleep seemed crazy to me, so I got up.
One week went by and then another. Weeks turned in to a months. I was so excited that I started coming up with new challenges for myself. I’ve never been able to workout before, so I called up my friend and said, ‘If I don’t work out 3 days of the week, then I owe you $50.’ Guess what, I’ve worked out more in my life. I don’t always want to, but I have a plan for those days. I’ve even combined the two together, so when I wake up, I go and work out. To birds with one stone kind of thing.
Now you don’t have to do what I did, but you need a plan that has a good incentive built into it. If you find yourself breaking your plan too much, then up the anti a bit.
The second thing you need to understand about personal and marital growth is: in those down times, you need to get even more radical. That’s right. The best way to defeat a lacking motivation is by facing it head on. Don’t sit and wait for the ‘feelings’ to go way (they normally don’t). Change the feelings by doing the opposite of what those feelings are telling you to do. Remember, you want a better life and marriage. This is going to take time and effort. Now is not the time for timidity. Take courage and push yourself.
Here is what I mean. I resolved the other week to be more industrious. This means I did not want to waste any time in useless tasks that neither benefits my family, neighbor, or myself. (Now don’t miss understand me, one of those tasks is to take a day of rest and enjoy a pint with a friend. So I am not trying to become a work alcoholic). Being a rather slothful man, I knew this was going to be tough.
The day came when I was not motivated at all. Mindlessly suffering the Internet sounded lovely, but I remember my resolution. I jumped out of my chair and ran down into the garage and began to organize my toolbox. This was hard (not physically but psychologically) and not fun at all, but I pushed myself to finish it. Still feeling the laziness inside me, I set myself on a new task, I started organizing and cleaning the whole garage. The next thing I know the whole thing was clean, organized, and my wife is beaming with delight. Feeling confident and now motivated, I immediately went upstairs and started cleaning the kitchen and putting the laundry away. My wife said, ‘Wow, what has gotten into you,’ to which I replied, ‘I don’t want to suck anymore.’ She was quite pleased.
That is how you do it.
The third thing you need to understand about personal and marital growth is: slow and steady wins the race. Remember the story of The Tortoise and the Hare? The basic moral of the story is keep chugging alone no matter how slow it seems you are going. You might see others improve really fast, but don’t be deceived they might be the hare. In your marriage, allow time for each of you to grow.
My wife has waited many years for me to finally be motivated to be a ‘clean gentlemen.’ I have never liked showers, I grow a beard because I hate shaving, and I have always dressed like a baboon. But slowly, over time, my own moral principles convicted me that I need to be a proper gentleman and care about how I smell, look, and appear to her. I have always known what she likes, but I have always struggled to put that into practice. But slowly over time, the character trait of ‘cleanliness’ brewed in my soul.
I first began to not wear such baggy cloths, and then I left behind my ‘skater shoes’ and started wearing dress shoes. I slowly started replacing old T-shirts with collared shirts and picked up few nice sweaters. Now I am trying to integrate dress pants, ties, and sports jackets into my daily dressing for fun and as money presents itself, which is not often. Furthermore, my wife (not to mention my mother) is happy to see that I am keeping up with daily hygiene.
Slowly I changed, but it took many years. My wife was patient though. Not wanting a hare experience, she would rather me slowly change for good, then change for a month.
In the end, you might not need another book or read another blog. What you need is to keep pushing forward. I could give many more suggestions on how to keep moving forward, but this will suffice for now. Make a plan, push past those down times by getting radical, and always remember slow and steady will win the race.
Brandon Wall is a Counselor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: http://www.cedarrapidscounselingcenter.com/
Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473. For more information about Dr. Wall click here.