Change is hard! Or is it?

30-08-2019 Leroy Naarden

Imagine you love weightlifting, which probably isn’t very difficult since you’re reading this blog. The feeling of the barbell in your dry chalked hands. The knurling rubbing against the thumb under your fingers. A calm focus in your mind when you set up for the lift. Slowly you tense your entire body. You feel the slack leaving the barbell - though it doesn’t leave the ground just yet. One second passes. Then two. On three you breathe in fiercely followed by a violent full body extension. In the blink of an eye, the bar has travelled from under your knees to over your head. You stand up straight and show control. You can’t suppress a slight smile. No one could at this moment. You just snatched your all-time best.

There’s only one problem. Your shoulder hurts like shit. Not only on this particular lift but on all your lifts - even the empty barbell. Going overhead is a bitch.

So what do you do? You warm up extensively. You’ve collected all kinds of exotic movements and equipment to assist you: bands, balls, spiked foam rollers, you name it, you got it. Over the years you’ve created a special routine to prepare your body for the horror that lives above 90 degrees shoulder flexion. Does it work? Sometimes, but unfortunately not always.


A Familiar Story

Let’s switch gears a bit and press pause on your love-hate relationship with weightlifting. Because even though it often doesn’t look like it, you actually have a life outside the box. A life where you eat, sleep, work, socialise, and binge on the latest Netflix series.

Hopefully, you love your life, but you’re also human. This means there’s a good chance you have a nasty habit or two that you’d like to get rid of. Maybe you want to stop smoking, start eating more healthy or you want to find the love of your life instead of scaring him or her away when they come to close. 

So what do you do? 

A few times per year you muster up all your willpower to focus on breaking (one of) those habits. You prepare for war, convinced that this time you’ll be victorious. And low and behold: you win the first few battles. 

But what happens over time? ‘Life’ takes over; 'other stuff’ demands your attention which ultimately leaves you losing yet another war on that pesky habit. If this happens enough times you might even create a story around it: 

  • “I lack willpower” 
  • “I’m not a disciplined person” 
  • “I’m a loser”

So you just give up and accept it as a fact that long-time habits are hard to change?

Well, that’s one possibility. But before you quit, let’s find out if there’s another option...


Back to the Barbell

Imagine one day an obscure Russian strength coach visits your gym. He’s supposed to be 150 years, living on a diet only consisting of sunshine, oxygen and Wodka. The rumour is he’s responsible for training all the great strongman and weightlifting champions our communist friends ever produced. 

He sees you snatching, obviously in pain. After a few lifts, he approaches you and tells you to change your grip. The Wodka part is definitely true, but you’re not really sure who this guy is. The suggestion he gave you flies in the face of everything you’ve learned and practised over the last decade. However, your parents raised you to respect the elderly, so out of politeness you follow his advice. 

What happens next scares the shit out of you: The weight flies up, with ZERO pain.

Convinced this is a fluke you try a 2nd lift. Same result. 3d lift, same result... 

Drool over this scenario in your mind a bit and then ask yourself the following question: How much effort would it take you to break your long time grip habit once you experienced this? 3 weeks? 66 days? Or would it be changed almost instantly?

Are you still 100% convinced that change is hard? That it takes a long time? That it’s a mere lack of willpower or discipline that’s holding you back?


Sit with it

One could say that change is hard, until it isn’t. Once changing your behaviour is the only obvious option, the habit is broken. Just like that. 

So the question is: ‘How does change become obvious?’ 

There’s no definitive answer to this, but in my experience it always requires increased awareness. And to be aware of something, you need to ‘look’ in the right direction: Whatever it is you’d like to change, have you ever thought about why you want it? Not on a superficial level but really thought it all the way true? 

Are you brave enough to really investigate your motives for the change you desire? 

Yes, it requires courage to do this, because your research could stir up some emotions that don’t feel comfortable. For example, you might discover your desire for change is secretly driven by guilt or shame (in which case it makes sense you experience major resistance). Are you willing to allow, accept, and embrace all the feelings you encounter on this journey? Are you ready to sit with it, for as long as it takes, until the dust is settled and the pearl becomes visible?

I imagine this point this all sounds really philosophical, so let’s see if we can make it a bit more tangible.


Example: Screen time

Let’s say you decide you want to decrease the time you spend on your phone. How could one go about this?

Most people dive in head first, by creating some rules around screen time on their phone. “I only use my phone for an accumulated 1 hour a day” could be such a rule. Most smartphones these days have built-in software to monitor this, so it’s easy to see how you’re performing on your self created rule.

But let’s investigate this a little deeper by asking a few questions:

  • Where did the idea for reducing your screen time come from?
  • What benefits do you think decreasing your screen time will bring you?
  • What do you use your phone for and is it even realistic or desirable to reduce screen time?

Also, another interesting question to ask yourself is:

  • What are the benefits you enjoy from watching your screen?

Please read this last question again carefully. This is the one that might hurt a bit, but honestly answering this could provide you a valuable insight you didn’t expect.


Resistance to change.

The point of this article isn’t to deny that changing takes effort. There are, after all, measurable physiological processes that take place that are related to habit formation. And of course there are certain skills and tactics that make the change process more effective. I just hope you see that when something requires effort this isn’t synonymous to experiencing it as ‘hard.’

In my experience, when clients tell me they feel resistance in changing their behaviour, the problem almost always lies ‘upstream:’ they lack enough insight to drive the required actions all the way through.

But that’s not you, right? ?

So let me ask you: What’s a change you’d like to make? Are you willing to spend some time on observing your current behaviour and investigating your motives and worldview? Are you curious enough to do this? I really hope so, but please don’t take my word for it:

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” - Walt Disney

Happy exploring.

Leroy Naarden

About Leroy Naarden

Leroy Naarden is the founder and former co-owner of CrossFit Zuid in Roosendaal. Nowadays his coaching and teaching is aimed at personal development, vitality and leadership. In 2018 he wrote the book “Haal Meer Uit Je Leven.” He helps his clients to get the most out of their lives and uses a combined perspective of science, philosophy and spirituality. In addition to leading his own programs, he teaches other coaches at Chivo Institute for vitality. More info:

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