John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Why Progress Can Be Difficult

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is our ability to run at cross-purposes with ourselves. Think about it. How often haven't you declared you want one thing only to find yourself pursuing another. Or maybe you resolve to change a habit or pattern, only to revert back in a matter days, weeks. And low and behold, not only is the habit not better, sometimes it's actually worse.

Frequently, we know what we need to do, or what's good for us. The rub is getting ourselves to do it. Oh, sometimes our intentions will carry us through. We brace ourselves, put our shoulders to the wheel, and push. Willpower is a wonderful thing when it works. But what about when it doesn't?

Usually it's a matter of having
contradictory commitments. For instance, we can be committed to change even as we are committed to avoiding discomfort. And make no mistake, change produces discomfort. As we try on new behaviors, roles, identities, we feel unsettled, uncertain, perhaps even a bit anxious. Your psyche would very much like it if you remained self-consistent, thank you very much. Even when that consistency is hurting you.

If you're committed to a project of personal change, of feeling better, or making progress on your problems, you'll have unpack your inner life. You'll have to delve into thoughts, feelings, fears, wishes, dreams, and more, and you'll have become deeply acquainted with your truest, deepest self –- even the parts of yourself that defy logic or common sense.

But look on the bright side. Your psyche is delightfully complex. Were it not, you'd be uncreative, uninspired, unfeeling, uncaring, unoriginal, and unfun. You'd be boring. And who really wants that?